Contributed by Dr. Amanda Ganem, cardiologist, Westmed Medical Group
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women in the United States. For both men and women, understanding risk is very important to making lifestyle changes to live a better, healthier life.
Risk factors we cannot control include gender, age, race and family history of stroke or heart attack. But it can help to be aware of how coronary artery disease affects each of us differently, particularly when it comes to gender.
Symptoms: Presenting Differently in Females vs. Males
In both men and women, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. But women are more likely than men to experience atypical symptoms, such as left arm pain, nausea and vomiting, back pain or shortness of breath. Symptoms of this nature in both men and women should prompt more urgent evaluation with a physician.
Heart Disease: Risk-Factors for Women
If you are a woman who suffers from endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes or you had high blood pressure while pregnant, you are more at risk for coronary artery disease. While women are generally older when they have their first heart attack, as compared to men, being diagnosed with any of the conditions listed above, should encourage you to be vigilant in monitoring and managing your heart health.
Additionally, African American women can have 2x the risk of stroke, compared to Caucasians, and are statistically more likely to die at an earlier age from this disease compared to others. If you are African American, controlling hypertension is extremely important for heart health.
What Can You Do?
Encouraging both men and women to make a commitment to better their health is paramount to fighting heart disease. While we cannot control demographic or inherited risk factors, there are many decisions you can make in order to help you maintain optimal heart health:
- Controlling high blood pressure
- Managing diabetes
- Not smoking
- Maintaining low cholesterol
- Being physically active
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Knowing your risk
- In addition to taking these actions, it’s also important to schedule yearly exams to monitor your cholesterol level and blood pressure. You can work with your primary care physician to assess your risk for heart disease and ensure you are on the right track to great heart health and longevity. If you are currently concerned about your heart health, your primary care physician can also refer you to a cardiologist for further evaluation and monitoring.The best thing you can do for yourself is to stay informed about your overall heart health and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.