How Women Can Advocate For Their Heart Health
February is American Heart Month, a time that encourages all of us to focus on our cardiovascular health. As the month winds down, we want to take a look at one of the most overlooked issues related to cardiovascular health: older women face the same level of risk for heart disease as older men.
Did you know that heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States? Each year, nearly 500,000 women experience a heart attack. It’s vital that women learn about the risks of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. It’s equally important for women to advocate for themselves, especially with respect to heart-related health issues. Studies have shown due to a gender bias doctors sometimes ignore a woman’s cardiovascular symptoms during exams. Knowing the signs to look for and how to ensure you get the medical care you need are two giant steps to better heart health.
Cardiovascular Disease Symptoms
Within five years of menopause, a woman’s risk of heart disease is about the same as a man’s. Knowing the symptoms of heart attacks, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular diseases can help you receive an earlier diagnosis and better treatment.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain. This is the primary symptom for both women and men. The pain or discomfort is typically located in the center of the chest. You may feel pain, pressure, or a sense of fullness. The pain lasts for more than a few minutes, and it may go away and return later. The pain may not be severe, so it’s easy to ignore this symptom.
- Pain in other areas: You may also experience pain or discomfort in your jaw, neck, back, arm, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Cold sweat.
High blood pressure is a common cardiovascular disease that occurs when the force of the blood flow against the walls of your arteries rises. This higher pressure will eventually damage the lining of your arteries and heart. It’s essential to diagnose and manage high blood pressure because it can lead to heart attack, stroke, or lower blood flow to your brains and other organs.
Pregnancy, birth control medications, and menopause can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure in women. Other contributing factors include being overweight and having diabetes or several other health conditions.
High blood pressure is known as “the silent killer” because it often has no symptoms. Some people may experience:
- Shortness of breath
The best way to determine whether you have high blood pressure is to ask your doctor to check it regularly. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, you can buy a home blood pressure monitor and learn how to use it properly. Keep a log of your readings to detect any significant changes in your blood pressure.
Advocating for Yourself
Doctors too often ignore the symptoms of heart disease in women because of gender. As a result, heart conditions can go undetected, undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed. To ensure that your health concerns and needs are addressed, it’s important to advocate for yourself if suspect that you may have symptoms of heart disease or want to take preventive steps to ensure your heart health.
The patient-advocacy nonprofit WomenHeart recommends that you speak with your doctor to better understand your personal risks of heart disease. They suggest that you ask specific questions, including:
- What is my overall risk for heart disease?
- What tests should I have to monitor my risk factors for developing heart disease or other cardiovascular diseases? How often do I need these screenings?
- I’ve heard the warning signs of a heart attack can be different in women. What should I look for?
- What lifestyle changes can I start making to improve my heart health?
Walking for Better Heart Health
Eating a heart-healthy diet and getting regular exercise are two ways to reduce your risks of heart disease. Studies have shown that walking, if done regularly, can be part of an effective fitness program for many adults. “Simply walking two miles a day does as much for your cardiovascular system as working out and breaking a sweat,” says Dr. Herbert Semler, a cardiologist trained at the Mayo Clinic.
Counting your steps is a good way to keep track of how far you walk. Heart Club, our doctor-designed app, includes a step counter that helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle. It helps you document your activity and progress, check your blood pressure, and have access to important medical data — all on your phone. Learn how Heart Club can help you manage your heart health.