By Shawna Page, Founder and CEO of femMED
Cardiovascular disease, once considered a ‘man’s disease,’ is the # 1 killer of women in Canada and worldwide. Women are 10 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from any other disease and cardiovascular disease kills more women 65 years of age + than all cancers combined.
Since only 1 in 8 women are aware of these facts, heart attacks often go unnoticed in women. Women don’t believe they are having a heart attack and think that their symptoms will go away on their own. This lack of awareness contributes to more women than men dying from a heart attack.
There are several risk factors for heart disease. Some can’t be controlled but many can.
Risk Factors You Can’t Control
About 85 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are age 65 or older.
Men have a greater risk of heart attack than pre-menopausal women. They also have attacks earlier in life. After menopause, a woman’s risk for heart attack is similar to a man’s.
If a first-degree blood relative has had coronary heart disease or stroke before the age of 55 years (for a male relative) or 65 years (for a female relative) your risk increases.
People with African or Asian ancestry are at higher risks of developing cardiovascular disease than other racial groups.
Risk Factors You Can Control
• High Cholesterol
• High Blood Pressure
• Physical Inactivity
• Unhealthy Diet
Heart and Stroke Foundation spokeswoman Dr. Beth Abramson said that while women may describe their pain differently than men, the most common symptom is still chest pain.
According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation:
“In the past, it was believed that women had different warning signals than men. This may not be the case. Both women and men may experience typical or non-typical symptoms such as nausea, sweating, pain in the arm, throat, jaw or pain that is unusual. However, women may describe their pain differently than men. Nevertheless, the most common symptom in women is still chest pain.”
The warning signals of a heart attack – for women and men according to the Heart & Stroke Foundation are:
• Sudden discomfort or pain that does not go away with rest
• Pain that may be in the chest, neck, jaw, shoulder, arms or back
• Pain that may feel like burning, squeezing, heaviness, tightness or pressure
• In women, pain may be more vague
• Chest pain or discomfort that is brought on with exertion and goes away with rest
• Shortness of breath
• Difficulty breathing
• Cool, clammy skin
If you are experiencing any of these signals, you should:
• CALL 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately, or have someone call for you. Keep a list of emergency numbers near the phone at all times.
• Stop all activity and sit or lie down, in whatever position is most comfortable.
• If you take nitroglycerin, take your normal dosage.
• If you are experiencing chest pain, chew and swallow one adult 325 mg ASA tablet (acetylsalicylic acid, commonly referred to as Aspirin) or two 80 mg tablets. Pain medicines such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) do not work the same way as ASA (i.e. Aspirin) and therefore will not help in the emergency situation described above.
• Rest comfortably and wait for emergency medical services (EMS) (e.g., ambulance) to arrive.
To cut your risk of heart disease, consider the following:
• Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, garlic, nuts, seeds and soy foods.
• Drink Green tea instead of coffee or soft drinks.
• Get at least one hour of moderate intensity exercise every day, such as brisk walking or cycling.
• Find ways to effectively deal with stress, such as meditation or yoga.
• Avoid smoke (first and second-hand)
• Take a supplement that contains a high quality fish oil and coenzyme Q10. Both of these nutrients offer benefits for heart health.
Be smart about your heart health. Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly and discuss the results with your doctor. Heart disease is a major threat to women but it is largely preventable.