Heart health and how heart attacks affect women differently

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  • Allison Linville

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  • Allison Linville

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, one in four deaths are caused by heart disease. Itís important to recognize that heart disease is preventable for those who take charge of their health and make good decisions about eating heart healthy foods and participating in 30 minutes of activity every day.

The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). This occurs as a result of plaque buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis) causing a decrease in blood flow to the heart muscle. As with many health conditions that impact a large number of Americans, itís possible to prevent or control the disease by deciding to make small changes in your life. Healthy food choices and regular activity will make a huge difference in your health and quality of life.

Many people donít know that heart attacks present differently in women than in men, causing some women to not know they are having a heart attack. Heart disease is the cause of one in three deaths for women nationwide. Being more aware of the different symptoms for men and women may help prevent a significant number of heart disease-related deaths. People are familiar with symptoms that are often prominent in men, which include pressure or squeezing in the chest and breaking out in a cold sweat. The commonly noted chest pain is known as angina, which occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood.

For women, the above symptoms may be present, but women may also experience stomach pain or indigestion, shortness of breath, or pain in the jaw, stomach, or back. Because these symptoms differ from those commonly related to heart attacks, some women disregard them and are unaware they may have a serious heart condition. Other symptoms women should look for are dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue. The American Heart Association explains that 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms, because these symptoms vary greatly between men and women and are often misunderstood. We tend to believe that the telltale sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain, which may not even be a presenting symptom for women.

It is also noted that because heart attack symptoms are different in women, they can sometimes be misdiagnosed. Itís important for women to recognize the symptoms, be educated about heart health, and explain to their doctor any concerns about heart disease or heart health.

Allison Linville is the community relations coordinator for North Valley Hospital.

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