As the month of May comes to a close, we’re reflecting on Women’s Health Month. With all the awareness campaigns out there regarding different women’s health issues, we’re reminded of one that often gets overlooked: heart disease.
Heart disease has long been known as the leading cause of death amongst all Americans; however, there is a common and persistent myth that heart disease is only a “male issue.” This simply could not be further from the truth. Heart disease is still the number one killer of women in the United States, killing roughly 300,000 women annually. Yet, despite this large number, only 56% of women realize the serious nature of heart disease.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the things you can do to lower your risk of heart disease.
Know the Signs
You may already know that the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. But if you didn’t know that, it turns out you’re not alone. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the American Heart Association, only 52% of women were aware that chest pain is a heart attack symptom. This is a perfect example of why getting the word out is so important. Knowing the signs and symptoms of heart disease can quite literally save your life.
Some of the most widely known heart attack symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain in the neck, jaw, or back. But did you know that women can experience an entirely different set of symptoms than men?
In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, women can also experience nausea, fainting or disorientation, indigestion, and extreme fatigue when suffering a heart attack.
The same is true for having a stroke. While the symptoms experienced by men are the ones most commonly known (numbness of the arm, face drooping, difficulty speaking or seeing), women are also prone to a number of additional symptoms, including general weakness, disorientation, nausea, and fatigue.
It may come as a surprise, but in general, women are more likely to suffer a stroke than men. This is especially true amongst black women, who statistically have a 47% higher risk of stroke than white women. Sadly, that risk only increases with age.
Healthy Heart Habits
Once you know the symptoms, you can take steps to lessen your overall risk by leading a heart-healthy lifestyle. Let’s take a look at a few simple habits you can develop to lower your risk of heart disease while simultaneously improving your overall health.
Maintain a Healthy Diet: Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. Minimize things like salt, added sugars, and saturated fats, as they will cause your heart to work harder over time.
Stay Active: It is recommended to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity. Go for a run, take a walk, anything to get up and on your feet. Any exercise is better than nothing, but try to push yourself a bit when you can for better results.
Quit Smoking: Smoking tightens your arteries, causing your heart to work harder. It can also cause high blood pressure, which will increase your risk of stroke.
Stay Hydrated: Drinking water instead of sugary drinks will limit your caloric intake and do wonders for the health of your whole body. If you drink alcohol, you may be surprised to know that moderate alcohol consumption may actually improve your heart health. However, as you might expect, having too much can have the opposite effect.
A woman’s body changes so much over the course of their life, so it should come as no surprise that their medical needs change as well. Keeping your heart in good health may look very different in your 20s than it does in your 50s. Annual visits with your physician are crucial to monitoring these changes and are vital for overall health.
When visiting your doctor, make sure you go in with a knowledge of your family history and be ready to discuss other risk factors. Don’t be afraid to offer up information as opposed to waiting for them to ask. It’s essential to be actively engaged in the conversation and guide it in a way that gets you the answers and information you’re looking for.
Keeping track of your own health in between appointments can also help your doctor make recommendations. You can even get yourself a heart monitor to make it easy. Knowing your average heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels will be a tremendous help when determining the best medical advice.
As you can see, heart disease has never been just a “male issue.” When it comes to your health, awareness is key. Prioritizing your heart health will put you on a path to better health overall. Keep these points in mind when establishing a heart-healthy routine to lower your risk of heart disease.
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