February is heart disease awareness month for women. A lot of women do not know the facts when it comes to heart disease.

Case in point, there used to be a time when it was thought that women under the age of 50 could not suffer a heart attack. So you can imagine what happened if you were a woman and you went to see your doctor with a complaint of chest pain. Your doctor would probably reassure you that it was not your heart and perhaps you had indigestion or were under a lot of stress and prescribe something for that.

The truth is that there are still some doctors out there that treat their female patients that way. 

And so, it is extremely important if you are a woman that you arm yourself with the facts.

Here are some other facts that you need to be aware of-

  • Women may not have the same symptoms of crushing chest pain as their male counterparts. In fact a significant number of women experience the early signs of a heart attack as a sudden onset of weakness, and not chest pain as our male counterparts do. Now let’s face it, if you were to go to an emergency department complaining that you are feeling weak, more than likely you’ll be sent home with an ‘off work slip’ and admonished to get some rest!! At the same time, not all complaints of weakness indicate a heart attack!!
  • Women who smoke increase the risk of having a heart attack up to two to four times.
  • Under the age of 50 women’s heart attacks are twice as fatal as men. This is all the more reason to be persistent when something just does not seem right.
  • Heart disease will kill six times more women this year than breast cancer.

What happens when you suffer a heart attack?

When you suffer a heart attack, the blood supply to an area of the heart muscle gets blocked off. Sometimes the blockage may not be a complete blockage and blood can still get by to the heart muscle. This is called ischemia or angina. The classic symptoms are chest pains, chest discomfort, and chest heaviness. Sometimes the pain may go down the left arm.

Or as women we may have what is called ‘atypical symptoms’ like unusual weakness, heartburn, dizziness, etc. 

But remember just as I pointed out, some women may not have the classic presentation of ischemia. The good news is that if the blood supply is restored at this point, then no permanent damage occurs to the heart muscle.

When the blood vessel to a particular are of the heart remains blocked for a period of time, eventually the heart muscle begins to die off. This is when a heart attack happens; the damage cannot be reversed and the heart muscle dies and it is replaced by scar tissue. Scar tissue reduces the functioning of the heart and eventually causes heart failure and death.

What you can do today:

  • Become knowledgeable about your risk for heart disease.Schedule your annual physical and get to know your numbers! These numbers include- your blood pressure, fasting lipid profile (cholesterol), and blood sugar.  If any of these numbers are outside of normal range then take action and work on getting them back to normal. For more information on knowing your numbers click here
  • Even if you do not have a family history of heart disease you can still be at risk!
  • If you smoke then quit. No more excuses! It’s still early in the year and you know you can do it.
  • If you are obese or even over 10% of your ideal body weight, then commit to losing weight.
  • If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, then make sure that you are being treated by a licensed healthcare professional. Do not ignore this part of your care. Denial only worsens things in the long run.
  • Find ways to cope with stress in your life. Stress is so prevalent that we as humans do not believe they can live a stress free life. It is our perception of stress that matters and what we do to modulate its effects. Stress can lead to a particular type of heart disease in women called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. I will be writing more about this in a follow up article later this month as this is something I think women need to be educated about.

Now more than ever we as women need to become more pro-active in our overall health and wellbeing. We need to stop making excuses for poor lifestyle choices. More importantly we need to accept that these lifestyle choices not only shorten our lives, but also the quality of the life that we have left. I’m not sure about you but I want to be healthy, vibrant and THRIVE well into my 90s and beyond! And I’m looking for my TRIBE of like-minded women to join me.

For more information about my working with me {click here}

Here’s to your health and wellbeing,