The “Heart Truth” is that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women of all ages, races, shapes, and sizes in the United States. But women sometimes experience heart disease differently than men. Healthy eating and physical activity go a long way to preventing heart disease and keeping it from getting worse if you already have it.
There is good news. You have the power to take action and lower your chance of developing heart disease and its risk factors. Start today. Make a commitment to find out your risk for heart disease and take steps toward a heart-healthy lifestyle.
To have a healthy heart, it is critical to know the risk factors for heart disease – that is, the behaviors or conditions that increase your chance of developing heart disease. Having just one risk factor increases your chance of developing heart disease, and your risk skyrockets with each added risk factor.
Risks for Heart Disease:
• High blood pressure
• High blood cholesterol
• Diabetes and prediabetes
• Overweight and obesity
• Lack of physical activity
• Unhealthy diet
• Metabolic syndrome
• Family history of early heart disease
• “Older” age (55 or older for women)
• Preeclampsia during pregnancy
Find out your personal risk for heart disease. Talk to your health care provider – ask to have your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and blood sugar checked.
Family history of early heart disease is a risk factor that cannot be changed. If your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, or if your mother or sister had one before age 65, you are more likely to develop heart disease yourself.
You may wonder: If I have just one risk factor for heart disease – say, I am overweight or I have high blood cholesterol – am I more or less "safe"? Unfortunately, no. Each risk factor greatly increases your chance of developing heart disease. But having more than one risk factor is especially serious because risk factors tend to "gang up" and worsen each other’s effects.
Show your heart some love:
• Move more - any exercise helps
• Improve your nutrition - eat more veggies, fresh fruit, and whole grains
• Eat healthier - avoid animal fats, sugar, and enriched flour products
• Get adequate sleep and reduce stress
• Stop smoking - this is a priority, even if you gain weight
• Aim for a healthy weight - avoid drinking calories (i.e., sodas, beer, fruit juices)
Make changes for a more healthy life
• Set realistic, specific goals for a heart healthy lifestyle.
• Act on your goals—take one step at a time.
• Figure out what is stopping you from making or sticking to healthy lifestyle changes.
• Keep a record of your daily food intake and physical activity may help you identify barriers and inspire you to reach your goals.
• Do not give up – get back on track when you slip up.
• Reward yourself for the gains you have made—with something you like to do, not with food.
• Make a plan to maintain your healthy lifestyle changes. Involve friends and family!
Symptoms of a heart attack:
• Chest pain or squeezing, or it may feel like heartburn or indigestion.
• Arms, upper back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or stomach (above the belly button) may hurt.
• You may feel like you cannot breathe or may have new shortness of breath with activity.
• Light-headedness or break out in a cold sweat.
• Sick (nauseous) to your stomach and you might even vomit.
• Feeling really, really tired.
Women are somewhat less likely than men to experience chest pain. Instead, they are more likely to experience:
• Pressure or tightness in the chest
• Stomach pain
Understand that heart attacks are not all the same. Some heart attacks are sudden. Other heart attacks start slowly. Your pain and other signs may go away and come back.
You may not be sure if you are having a heart attack. Don’t wait. Act fast. Call 9–1–1. The Heart Truth, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, is a national program for women that raises awareness about heart disease.