Heart disease is the number one killer among American women over the age of 25, yet only one in five women knows that heart disease is their greatest health threat, according to the American Heart Association.
If you are a woman, understanding your risk for heart disease (and especially for heart attacks!) has the power to save lives. In celebration of American Heart Month this February, let’s take a look at the essential five W’s of heart attacks in women: who, what, when, where and why.
Heart Attacks in Women: Who?
Each year, heart disease claims more female lives than breast cancer and lung cancer combined, making it the leading cause of death among women in the United States. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in four women die within the first year of a heart attack – that’s about 267,000 women each year.
Heart Attacks in Women: What?
Many people have the misperception that heart attacks always happen suddenly and dramatically. Though men typically experience obvious heart attack symptoms, including obvious chest pain and discomfort, many women will experience “silent” heart attack symptoms, such as:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain in arms, back, neck or shoulder
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath, nausea or lightheadedness
If you or someone around you is experiencing the warning signs of a heart attack, call 911 immediately and ask to be taken to the UnityPoint Health – Des Moines emergency department.
Heart Attacks in Women: When?
Heart attacks in women typically occur later in life than they do in men. The average age for a first heart attack in a woman is 70 years. However, because most women are unaware they are at risk for heart attack, many will mistake heart attack symptoms for indigestion, nausea, muscle pain or a mild to serious case of the flu.
In addition to age, every woman should note that her risk of heart attack goes up by 40 percent between the hours of 6 a.m. and noon because high blood pressure, thickened blood vessels and thickened blood are most common in the morning, right after a person wakes up.
Heart Attacks in Women: Where?
Heart attacks can happen anywhere, anytime. High stress is oftentimes a trigger for heart attacks, but it is important to know that they can occur when people least expect it. Many heart attacks happen when a person is in bed resting, at a gym exercising or outside in cold weather.
Heart Attacks in Women: Why?
Unfortunately, some heart attack risk factors, such as age and family history of the disease, are out of your control. However, many risk factors for heart attacks in women are the result of certain lifestyle choices, including:
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- High Blood Sugar
- Lack of Exercise
If your heart attack risk factors are high, please speak with your primary care physician about heart attack prevention. Whether you are at high risk or not, heart attack prevention starts with maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt as well as quitting, or not starting, smoking.
Never Skip a Beat with UnityPoint Health – Des Moines!
Heart attack education saves lives. Share this infographic with at least one woman in your life, and remember to turn to the Heart, Lung and Vascular care experts at UnityPoint Health – Des Moines for more information on women’s heart disease prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.