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Heart Disease and Women

heart shaped stethoscope

Heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year, killing more women than all forms of cancer combined. Heart disease affects the blood vessels and cardiovascular system. Numerous problems may result from this, many of those are related to a process called atherosclerosis, a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the wall of the arteries. The buildup then narrows the arteries making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop blood flow. This can then cause a heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease can take many other forms as well:

  • Heart failure or congestive heart failure, where the heart is still working, but it isn’t pumping blood as well as it should, or getting enough oxygen.
  • Arrhythmia or an abnormal rhythm of the heart is when the heart is either beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. This can affect how well the heart is functioning and whether or not the heart is able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
  • Heart valve problems can lead to the heart not opening enough to allow proper blood flow. Sometimes the heart valves don’t close and blood leaks through, or the valve leaflets bulge or slip forward or down into the upper chamber causing blood to flow backward.

Heart disease doesn’t affect all women the same, and the warning signs for women are very different than men. While most people are under the misconception that heart attacks and stroke are mostly a man’s disease, women must become more educated about the warning signs. Even if you’re not sure, have it checked out. Fast action can save lives - maybe even your own.

Heart attack warning signs for women may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms: nausea, clamminess, or cold sweats
  • Pain in the upper back, shoulders, neck, or jaw
  • Unexplained anxiety, fatigue, weakness, or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath - with or without chest pain

Stroke warning signs include:

  • F - Face Drooping
  • A - Arm Weakness
  • S - Speech Difficulty
  • T - Time to Call 911

Sometimes other symptoms appear, separately, in combination or with F.A.S.T signs. Those may include:

  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms and believe you are having a heart attack or stroke, it’s critical that you get medical attention right away. Immediate treatment may minimize the long-term effects and even prevent death.