Watch this video to learn about how different the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease are in women than men.
Mellanie True Hills:
Well, heart disease is really a different mechanism in women and we’ve only learned this in the last couple of years. A major study found out that in men when they’re starting to have buildup in their arteries it will plate over, you will have plaque develop, the waxy stuff will develop in little mountains inside of the arteries.
For women, it’s not that way. It will plate out uniformly inside the arteries. So there’s been this belief that women have such small arteries you can’t operate on women, and so they don’t recognize the fact that maybe it’s not small arteries, maybe our arteries are already occluded and they are not really seeing that.
So as a result we now know that women may need different tests than men because their results may be different. Stress tests will catch about two-thirds of heart disease in men and only about one-third in women because this mechanism is different inside of our arteries.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is a number of abnormal conditions affecting the heart and the blood vessels in the heart. Types of heart disease include:
* Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type and is the leading cause of heart attacks. When you have CAD, your arteries become hard and narrow. Blood has a hard time getting to the heart, so the heart does not get all the blood it needs. CAD can lead to:
o Angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that happens when the heart does not get enough blood. It may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain, often in the chest, but sometimes the pain is in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. It can also feel like indigestion (upset stomach). Angina is not a heart attack, but having angina means you are more likely to have a heart attack.
o Heart attack. A heart attack occurs when an artery is severely or completely blocked, and the heart does not get the blood it needs for more than 20 minutes.
* Heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump blood through the body as well as it should. This means that other organs, which normally get blood from the heart, do not get enough blood. It does NOT mean that the heart stops. Signs of heart failure include:
o Shortness of breath (feeling like you can't get enough air)
o Swelling in feet, ankles, and legs
o Extreme tiredness
* Heart arrhythmias are changes in the beat of the heart. Most people have felt dizzy, faint, out of breath or had chest pains at one time. These changes in heartbeat are, for most people, harmless. As you get older, you are more likely to have arrhythmias. Don't panic if you have a few flutters or if your heart races once in a while. If you have flutters AND other symptoms such as dizziness or shortness of breath (feeling like you can't get enough air), call 911 right away.
Do women need to worry about heart disease?
Yes. One in three American women dies of heart disease. In 2003, almost twice as many women died of cardiovascular disease (both heart disease and stroke) than from all cancers combined. The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to get heart disease. But women of all ages should be concerned about heart disease. All women should take steps to prevent heart disease.
Both men and women have heart attacks, but more women who have heart attacks die from them. Treatments can limit heart damage but they must be given as soon as possible after a heart attack starts. Ideally, treatment should start within one hour of the first symptoms.
If you think you're having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Tell the operator your symptoms and that you think you're having a heart attack.
Do women of color need to worry about heart disease?
Yes. African American and Hispanic American/Latina women are more likely to get heart disease because they tend to have more risk factors such as obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and diabetes than white women. Women of color also are more likely than white women to die of heart disease. If you're a woman of color, take steps to reduce your risk factors.
Heart Survivor, Author, and Speaker Mellanie is a heart survivor and the author of A Woman's Guide to Saving Her Own Life: The HEART Program for Health & Longevity. After having a brush with death in emergency heart surgery, Mellanie now uses her second chance to coach individuals in creating healthy lifestyles and organizations in creating healthy, productive workplaces.
Heart disease is the #1 killer, and stroke is #3. In the US each day, we lose nearly 3,000 men and women to heart disease and stroke. Forty per cent of us will get, and die from, heart disease or stroke. But it is preventable, if you know what to do.
Women have different heart symptoms than men, and they're typically very subtle, so for women, the first symptom is frequently a heart attack. Knowing those symptoms can save your life.
Mellanie's mission is to spread awareness of how to save your own life. She provides a message of hope and encouragement, sharing how to take control, decrease stress, and protect against heart disease. Audiences consistently say, You changed my life.
To further this mission, Mellanie is the founder and CEO of the American Foundation for Women's Health.
Mellanie also works with organizations that want healthy, productive workplaces to decrease stress and keep employees healthy, including how to leverage technology and culture in doing so.
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