February is American Heart Month, making it an ideal time to remind us to focus on our hearts. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 deaths in women are linked to heart disease. Yet few women understand the warning signs of heart attack and stroke. Sometimes heart attack symptoms may present differently in women than men. Plus, there’s a risk of what’s known as a silent heart attack, where mild symptoms are easily brushed off.
As a woman and a friend to other women, it’s crucial for you to understand the signs of a heart attack—especially symptoms that can be overlooked or ignored. Plus, we’ll introduce ways to support heart health as you age.
What Women Should Know About Heart Attacks
Heart attacks don’t always present the same for women as they do for men. This is a big reason why symptoms go ignored, or can be overlooked. Chest discomfort is the most common heart attack symptom. Other symptoms that aren’t present in every case may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweats
- Back pain, jaw pain, or pain in both arms
Additionally, women are at risk of ‘silent’ heart attacks. These are heart attacks with mild symptoms that may go unnoticed. They lack the intensity of chest pain, shooting pain down the arm or jaw, sudden shortness of breath, or sweating.
Often short symptoms appear that may make you feel like you’ve over-exerted yourself. Other symptoms may feel more like acid reflux or heartburn. If you notice any of these symptoms, don’t just brush them aside. Make note of them, and talk to your healthcare provider right away.
How Women Can Support Heart Health
It’s never too late to support your heart health. Here are some simple ways to give a little love to your heart right now.
Get plenty of fruits and vegetables- A healthy diet is one of the best ways to support heart health. Adding in a few more daily servings of fruits and vegetables will provide heart-supporting vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Plus you can support healthy cholesterol levels.
Cut back on added sugar and fat- Added sugars and dietary fat can negatively affect cholesterol levels, and also increase insulin resistance. Aim for less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Dietary fat should make up 20-30% of your daily calories.
Limit alcohol use- Alcohol use can lead to long-term heart problems. Additionally, alcohol increases your risk of cancer and liver disease. No alcohol is best. But if you choose to use alcohol, it’s important to weigh the risk with the enjoyment.
Quit smoking- We’ve known for a long time the negative health effects of smoking. But quitting isn’t always easy. Find a support group, and look for local smoking cessation programs provided through your healthcare network.
Improve sleep quality- Insomnia and lack of sleep contribute to your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Though sleep issues can arise as we approach and go through menopause, there are ways to improve sleep quality. These include avoiding caffeine after breakfast, or omitting it altogether. Creating a positive bedtime routine, and going to bed at the same time every night.
- Get active- Daily exercise is one of the best ways to support heart health. Even a quick 15-minute walk does wonders for your heart. If it’s been a while since you worked out, ease back into a routine slowly. Find supportive friends or join a local fitness club to hold you accountable.
It’s also important to know your family history. Talk with your doctor about any heart health issues experienced by your family, and get regular screening at your annual exams.