Women: How to tell if your heart is sick

Women: How to tell if your heart is sick

Even though heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, many women still don’t know the signs and symptoms that can help with early detection. Only half of women recognize the threat heart disease poses to their health.

“Heart disease can affect women at various ages, and women may not experience chest pain symptoms as often as men,” explained Dr. Marianna Krive, a cardiologist at Advocate Condell Medical Center. “Usually, women experience weakness, profound fatigue, chest discomfort, or break out in a cold sweat. Unfortunately, these flu-like symptoms aren’t immediately recognized as heart disease, and women too often wait until their symptoms are severe to seek help.”

Additionally, women’s heart disease remains under-diagnosed and undertreated by physicians due to the differences in symptoms as well as a persistent belief that cardiovascular disease predominately impacts men. That’s why it’s so important for women to be informed and to be their own health advocates. However, Krive says the best thing women can do it take preventative steps.

“It’s critical that women start taking care of their heart from a young age to prevent cardiovascular problems before they occur,” explained Krive. “Heart disease and even heart failure can occur during pregnancy because child-bearing puts an enormous amount of stress on the body and the heart. Making sure your heart is ready for pregnancy and childbirth will help prepare you for the other changes you’ll experience during post-partum and menopause which can also impact your cardiovascular health.”

Women should focus first on quitting smoking, getting 8 hours of sleep each night, reducing their sodium intake, exercising for 20 minutes at least 5 times a week, and maintaining a healthy weight to reduce their risk. Additionally, women should know their family history of heart attacks and heart disease to better understand their own risk.

“Your family history of heart disease is a big predisposing factor,” Krive cautions. “If a family member had a heart attack or was diagnosed with heart disease, especially at a young age, women are at a higher risk for that same problem, perhaps at an even earlier age.”

She recommends people with a family history of heart disease schedule a heart scan at least ten years prior to the family member’s age at the time of the event or diagnosis. This simple test can help women who are not experiencing any symptoms get a better understanding of their cardiovascular health, and guide a preventative care plan and treatment options. Combined with lifestyle changes, women can significantly reduce their risk, even if genetically predisposed to heart disease.

To better understand your risk for heart disease, click here to take a short quiz about your heart health.

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About the Author

Kristen Johnson
Kristen Johnson

Kristen Johnson, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing manager with Advocate Aurora Health. She previously worked as a speechwriter and staffer on Capitol Hill. She enjoys running marathons, good coffee and exploring Chicago’s many neighborhoods.