Typically thought of as a disease primarily affecting men, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in American women, claiming a death every 80 seconds, or more than 400,000 lives each year, according to the American Heart Association. Heart-related diseases kill about the same number of women as all forms of cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease and diabetes combined.

But despite this, only about half of women recognize heart disease as an issue, according to the Center for Disease and Prevention. This must change. As women, we need take our heart health seriously. And we can start by understanding how the disease uniquely impacts us and how we can prevent and treat it.

Risk factors

Cardiovascular disease is a general term that includes several conditions of the heart and blood vessels. This includes heart attack, heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, congenital heart disease and many other conditions.

The most common cause of cardiovascular disease is the build-up of cholesterol and fat deposits, called plaque, on the inner walls of the heart’s arteries. This collection restricts blood flow to the heart, which limits the oxygen and nutrients the heart needs to function. When one or more artery is completely blocked, a heart attack can happen.

There are many risk factors of cardiovascular disease, and some are unique to women, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Family history of heart attacks or heart disease
  • Age: Women generally develop issues 10 years later than men, but the older you are, the higher your risk, you have
  • Depression: Depressed women have a 50 percent higher risk of heart attack.

Common symptoms

Women and men can have similar heart-related issues, but there are symptoms that tend to be unique for women. For example, both men and women often feel chest pain during a heart attack, but women may experience less obvious symptoms, such as jaw, back, arm, or neck pain. Some women also experience nausea, a sense of dread, and feel weak.

Additionally, women may experience these signs of a heart attack, with or without chest pain:

  • Clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the abdomen or upper back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Unfortunately, because these signs can be perceived as not “typical” heart attack symptoms, women might take them less serious and delay treatment. In fact, women are less likely to call 911 when experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. The median delay to go to the ER for a heart attack is about 16 hours for men. For women, it’s 54 hours. Remember: If you recognize symptoms of a heart attack, don’t hesitate to call emergency services.

Prevention, the best treatment

It might seem selfish to take care of yourself. But there’s nothing more important to you and your family than your health. Plus, you don’t have to be a marathon runner or go on a crazy diet to take care of your heart. Here are a few simple ways:

  • Don't smoke. Your chance of having a heart attack doubles if you smoke one to four cigarettes a day. Regular exposure to second-hand smoke can increase your risk, too.

  • Get moving. Try to get a minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise. Going for quick walk or, working in your yard, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator are just a few ways to fit this into your routine.

  • Eat healthfully. Studies show key ingredients to a healthy heart diet — a mix of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, such as salmon, and limited amounts of trans fats.

  • Lower stress. Your risk for cardiovascular disease can go up if you're depressed or always feel stressed. Take a chill pill by exercising, getting enough sleep, and meditating.

Getting treatment

Treatment for cardiovascular disease has come a long way. And although prevention remains the best route, there are ways to help treat heart issues.

  • Medication. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help treat certain risk factors if lifestyle changes alone aren't enough. The type of medication will depend on personal needs, other health conditions and your specific issue.

  • Intervention procedure. Common ways to treat cardiovascular disease are balloon angioplasty and stent or drug-eluting stent placement. These are considered nonsurgical because they are done by a cardiologist using a tube or catheter inserted into a blood vessel. These procedures use different types of balloons and/or catheters to treat the plaque within the vessel wall, and the physician chooses the type of procedure to perform based on individual patient needs.

  • Surgery. A common surgery to help treat heart issues is a coronary artery bypass graft surgery. One or more blocked arteries are bypassed by a blood vessel graft to restore normal blood flow to the heart. The graft goes around the clogged artery and creates new ways for oxygen-rich blood to flow to the heart.

We know a lot about hearts at Regional Medical Center. Our hospital is designated by Santa Clara County as an ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) receiving center, meaning we treat the most severe type of heart attack. We also treat many types of heart disease, such as heart arrhythmias and congestive heart failure.

Our expert team has been serving the San Jose community and surrounding areas for more than 30 years. We have a dedicated team of highly-trained and qualified heart specialists – including cardiologists, heart surgeons, vascular surgeons, radiologists, and nurses – that provides innovative care and help patients have great outcomes each day.

We take pride our high-quality treatment of heart conditions, and it’s been noticed. We were named one of America’s 250 'Best Hospitals' in 2022, according to Healthgrades. This award looked across the country at hospitals and ranked them based on how they address common conditions – including heart attack, heart failure, pacemaker procedures, and valve surgery. Regional Medical Center won, putting us in the top 5 percent of hospitals in the nation that consistently delivery clinical quality.

Let’s make sure we’re remembered by making smart, heart-healthy decisions. Our families and loved ones depend on it. And you deserve it.

Sources

Heart attack symptoms: Men vs. women. By American Heart Association News.

The most common symptom of a heart attack for both men and women is a chest pain. But women may experience less obvious warning signs.

Men:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Squeezing chest pressure or pain
  • Shortness of breath

Women:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Chest pain, but not always
  • Pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue