According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. While awareness continues to increase for all Americans, the deadly disease looks different for women. We spoke with Dr. Odayme Quesada, the women’s cardiac care director of Christ Hospital’s Women’s Heart Center to learn the warning signs women should watch for.
Symptoms to Watch Out For
“Women with heart disease do not always present with classic chest pain,” Quesada says. “If symptoms are severe or recurrent it is important to seek medical care right away without delay.” Symptoms that women experience include:
- Epigastric pain
- Shortness of breath
- Shoulder pain
- Neck pain
- Extreme fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
Ischemia with non-obstructed coronary arteries (INOCA) and coronary microvascular dysfunction are often missed and warrant a second opinion. These diseases aren’t caused by blockages of the heart arteries, but blood supply to the heart is restricted. Quesada says most referrals the Center treats are female patients seeking a second opinion for persistent chest pain or atypical symptoms as noted above that are often ignored and labeled as non-cardiac.
Risk Factors to Consider
Common risk factors that apply to both men and women include smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and a family history of cardiac disease. However, Quesada says there are women-specific risk factors, including:
- Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy including preeclampsia
- Premature menopause
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Autoimmune diseases (these can affect men too, but most often women experience autoimmune disorders)
What to Do To Keep Your Heart Healthy
Prevention is key when it comes to heart disease. Quesada recommends to her patients the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple Seven to prevent heart disease:
- Manage blood pressure: When your blood pressure is maintained in a healthy range, it reduces the strain on your heart and other major organs. This ultimately results in a healthy body.
- Control cholesterol: This will keep your arteries clear of blockages. Clogged arteries lead to heart disease, so tracking your levels is crucial.
- Reduce blood sugar: Carbohydrates come in the form of food and drink that are turned into glucose that can enter the bloodstream. To avoid high blood sugar, eat a balanced diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, beans, and nuts and avoid sugary drinks and other added sugar.
- Get active: You should get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Start by getting out to walk the neighborhood and incorporate resistance and weight training into your exercise routines.
- Eat better: Improving your diet is helpful for preventing many diseases. Eat smaller portions and increase vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins, skinless poultry, and fish.
- Lose weight: Reducing extra fat and unnecessary weight relieves your lungs, heart, and other organs, giving your body less work to do. Start by increasing your activity and introducing a healthy diet.
- Stop smoking: The American Heart Association says quitting smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the U.S. After one year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is cut in half. Put together a plan to quit; you’re more likely to be successful with a plan in place.
Call 911 if you are experiencing a medical emergency. If you think you are experiencing symptoms, seek help as soon as possible. For more information about Dr. Quesada, to learn more about other women’s heart research underway, or to schedule an appointment, call the Christ Hospital’s Women’s Heart Center at (513) 585-2140 or visit Christ Hospital’s Women’s Heart Center’s website.