What’s the key to heart health for women? A healthy diet and regular exercise go a long way, but it’s also important to understand all your risk factors, the symptoms of heart disease in women, and why you need to stay in touch with your doctor.
Women often think breast cancer is their biggest health risk, but heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. By keeping these six simple heart health tips in mind, you can help manage your risks and know what to do if you have symptoms.
1: Know Your Heart Disease Risk Factors
Women have many of the same risk factors for heart disease as men, like age, family history, smoking, and conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. You might also be at a higher risk for heart disease if you:
- Started your period at a young age (younger than 10)
- Had pregnancy-related conditions like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or preeclampsia
- Went through menopause at an early age (younger than 44)
- Are post-menopausal
- Have medical conditions like lupus, chronic kidney disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Remember, the more risk factors you have, the higher your risk can be, so make sure you talk to your doctor about your whole medical history.
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2: Get an Annual Checkup
Women are often busy caring for others, but it’s important to take care of yourself as well. An annual check-up with your primary care doctor gives you a chance to get important facts about your health, to talk about any symptoms you feel, and to ask your doctor what you can do to manage your risks.
3: Make Heart-Healthy Choices
A healthy lifestyle is the foundation for heart health for women. You can make healthy choices like:
- Eating a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products
- Getting regular physical activity
- Quitting smoking and using tobacco products
- Finding healthy ways to cope with stress, like physical activity, hobbies, or meditation
- Getting regular check-ups to keep an eye on your risk factors
- If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, following your treatment plan, including making any lifestyle changes your doctor recommended and staying on your medicines
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4: Pay Attention to How You Feel
Most people know that chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue (or feeling very tired) can be signs of heart disease. Other symptoms can also include:
- Fluttering in the chest (also called heart palpitations)
- Coughing, especially a dry cough
- Swelling of your feet or ankles
- Weight gain accompanied by swelling in the legs
And, remember: if you get heart-related symptoms when you’re angry, upset, or stressed, talk to your doctor. This can be a sign of heart disease, so don’t dismiss it as anxiety, or that you’re overly emotional.
5: Know the Signs of a Heart Attack
Women can have classic symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and arm pain during a heart attack, but many women can also have milder symptoms including:
- Pressure or pain in your chest that comes and goes
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Pain in your jaw, arm, or back
If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Don’t drive yourself to the hospital or ask someone to drive you. Paramedics are trained to treat people on the way to the hospital and offer the safest, fastest way to get there.
6: Trust Your Gut
If you think something is wrong, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or get emergency medical help. It’s always better to seek treatment than to ignore symptoms and have a life-threatening event like a heart attack or stroke.
For more information about preventing heart disease in women and options for treatment, contact the Magee Womens-Heart Program, part of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, at 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.