Most people believe heart disease will affect "someone else." Despite this common belief, heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S and a major cause of disability. Heart disease comes in many forms, most frequently through narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries. These important blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This condition is known as coronary artery disease and happens gradually over many years. Coronary artery disease is the cause of most heart attacks.
Heart problems may affect the valves in the heart, or the heart may not pump well and lead to heart failure. Some people are born with heart disease.
To reduce your risk of heart disease, manage the factors that put you at greater risk:
- Control your blood pressure
- Lower your cholesterol
- Don't smoke
- Get enough exercise
Heart attack warning signs for men
In the United States, more than 300,000 people a year die from a heart attack before they get to a hospital or in the emergency room. Many of those deaths can be prevented by acting quickly.
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. However, most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Here are some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. This may occur with or without chest discomfort. Other signs. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Heart attack warning signs for women
The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it's not always severe or even the most prominent symptom, particularly in women. Women are more likely than men to have signs and symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
- Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
These signs and symptoms are more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks.
Women often get to the emergency rooms after much heart damage has already occurred because their symptoms are not those typically associated with a heart attack. If you experience these symptoms or think you're having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. DON'T DRIVE YOURSELF TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM.
What are the heart disease risk factors for women?
Although the traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease — high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — affect women and men, other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. For example:
- Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
- Mental stress and depression affect women's hearts more than men's.
- Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
- Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels (small vessel heart disease).
Is heart disease something only older women should worry about?
No. While heart disease is the leading cause of death for women 65 and older, it's the third-leading cause of death for women 25 to 44 and the second-leading cause of death for women 45 to 64. Women under the age of 65 who have a family history of heart disease should pay particularly close attention to the heart disease risk factors. Still, all women, of all ages, should take heart disease seriously.
What to do
If you think you're having a heart attack, DO NOT DRIVE YOURSELF TO THE HOSPITAL OR DOCTOR. Instead, call 9-1-1 before it's too late. It's almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment and with the Dothan Fire Department's new 12-lead EKG technology, paramedics can provide more detailed patient information to hospital physicians and help reduce the time between a patient's arrival in the emergency department to cardiac intervention, such as a coronary angioplasty.
Plan what to do ahead of time in case of a heart attack -- it could save your life or someone else's. We recommend the following steps as part of your plan:
- Learn the signs of a heart attack and know the differences in symptoms between men and women.
- Ask your doctor whether you are at risk for a heart attack and what you can do about it. Ask if you should take aspirin and/or nitroglycerin if you begin having chest pain.
- Talk with your family members, friends and coworkers about the heart attack warning signs and the importance of acting quickly.
- Discuss the benefits of calling 911.