28 Jan 2015
Dr. Anna’s Quickstart Guide to Cardiovascular Disease in Women
Did you know that heart disease is THE #1 killer of post-menopausal women?
Did you know that more women die of cardiovascular disease than from the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer?
In women, it’s easy to miss heart attack symptoms in the early stages because symptoms show up differently than in men. Quick action can mean life or death, so it’s up to you to get familiar with the warning signs of a heart attack.
Am I Having a Heart Attack?
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.
Signs of a Heart Attack:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 9-1-1 and chew or crush a 325 mg aspirin while you’re waiting for the paramedics.
How About a Stroke?
Stroke is the #3 cause of death in America and can result in severe, long-term disability. The only thing people are more afraid of than a stroke is public speaking.
Stroke and TIA (transient ischemic attack) happen when a blood vessel feeding the brain gets clogged or bursts. The signs of a TIA are like a stroke, but usually last only a few minutes. If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help.
Call 9-1-1 to get help fast if you have any of these, but remember that not all of these warning signs occur in every stroke.
Signs of Stroke and TIAs
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Also, check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared. It’s very important to take super-quick action.
Research from the American Heart Association has shown that if given within three hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.
If you’re a woman over 55 and at higher risk for stroke (smoke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, have a family history of heart disease or you’ve already had a heart attack or stroke), ask your doctor if you could benefit from taking a daily aspirin.
Does Estrogen Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke?
Some data suggest that estrogen may actually decrease the risk of heart disease when taken early in postmenopausal years.
If you’re having a tough time with symptoms of menopause but worry about how hormone therapy will affect your heart, talk with your health care provider to put your personal risk into perspective. Consider these points:
- The risk of heart disease to an individual woman taking hormone therapy is very low. If you are in early menopause, have moderate to severe hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, and are otherwise healthy, the benefits of hormone therapy likely outweigh any potential risks of heart disease.
- Your individual risk of developing heart disease depends on many factors, including family medical history, personal medical history and lifestyle practices. Talk to your doctor about your personal risks.
- Risk differs for women with premature menopause or premature ovarian failure. If you stopped having periods before age 40 (premature menopause) or lost normal function of your ovaries before age 40 (premature ovarian failure), you have a different set of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) health risks compared with women who reach menopause near the average age of about 50. This includes a higher risk of coronary heart disease.