5 Life-Saving Tips That All Women Need to Know About Heart Health
Learn the signs of heart disease, chest pain, and deadly attacks, so you can protect yourself.
By Karen Asp
Women’s hearts differ from men’s in surprising ways. Here, what you need to know to take care of your ticker.
1. Men and women can have different risk factors.
While the big ones are the same—smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and physical inactivity— some factors are more dangerous for women (for instance, those who smoke have a 25% higher risk of developing heart disease compared to male smokers). Also, some issues related to heart problems, such as preeclampsia and endometriosis, only affect women, and risk factors like depression and anxiety touch a greater number of women than men.
Act now: At your next checkup, discuss all risk factors with your doctor, particularly those specific to women.
2. Women don’t always suffer crushing chest pain when they’re having a heart attack.
Even though chest pain is the number-one symptom for both sexes, women are more likely to have certain signs such as extreme fatigue, indigestion, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, and pain in the back, neck, or jaw. Because these symptoms are unusual, women often take longer than men to call for emergency help, setting themselves up for worse outcomes. According to a recent European study, on average men waited 45 minutes to call, while women waited an hour, which put them at twice the risk of dying in the hospital.
Act now: If you think something is wrong, get checked immediately and don’t let doctors dismiss you. Ask for an EKG to make sure your heart is okay.
3. Women can have “widow-maker” heart attacks, too.
The name implies that these are a man’s issue, but women experience them as well. A widow-maker happens when there’s a blockage in the left descending artery, which feeds one side of the heart’s main pumping chamber. (Its grim name comes from the fact that survival rates are extremely low.)
Act now: Although a widow-maker is a sudden event, you can still have symptoms leading up to it, so never ignore unfamiliar feelings. It’s also wise to learn CPR in case a friend or family member starts to show signs (go to heart.org/handsonlycpr).
4. Women don’t always receive the same heart-health care as men.
Treatment for heart disease in women still lags far behind. Because the medical community once thought women didn’t get heart disease, much of the data doctors use today is from men.
Act now: Get involved to help experts gather more data—go to Research Match and fill out a quick profile. The site then sends you information about trials and studies.
5. Yes, you can have a broken heart.
Stressful situations like the death of a loved one can trigger intense chest pain, called broken heart syndrome, and women are more vulnerable. Even though it’s not a heart attack, if you feel pain, seek emergency care.