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Heart disease—What women should know about

Know the symptoms of heart attack and stroke

Getting immediate medical attention is the key to surviving a heart attack or stroke. Knowing the signs of each could save your life or that of someone you love.

Most common warning signs of heart attack:

  • uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
  • pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms
  • chest discomfort with light-headedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath

Common warning signs of stroke:

  • sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body
  • sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye
  • loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech
  • sudden, severe headaches with no known or apparent cause
  • unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially along with any of the other listed stroke symptoms

Women may have other, less common, warning signs of heart attack:

  • atypical chest pain, stomach or abdominal pain
  • nausea or dizziness
  • shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue
  • palpitations, cold sweat or paleness

Here’s shocking news: Most women have no idea that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is by far their greatest health threat.

Unfortunately, this is an instance in which what a woman doesn’t know could kill her. Not realizing that heart disease and stroke are a significant threat to them, many women don’t worry about guarding their cardiovascular health. Steps to reduce the risk of heart disease include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, stopping smoking and monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

It’s also important to learn more about how cardiovascular disease affects women differently from men. Here’s a summary of recent research.

  • A better test for women. For unknown reasons, the exercise stress test, in which the electrical activity of a person’s heart is monitored as he or she walks on a treadmill, often yields false results in women. Although more studies need to be done, researchers have found that heart disease can be more accurately diagnosed in women when physicians look for a second reading on the electrocardiogram.
  • Another villain in your blood. Elevated blood triglyceride levels raise the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially in women. Triglycerides help form LDL cholesterol—the “bad” kind that builds up on artery walls.
  • The aspirin deficit. Aspirin is one of the most effective treatments for heart attack patients, yet many women who have suffered a heart attack fail to take it. Researchers don’t know whether the women are less likely to take something physicians tell them about or whether physicians are less aggressive in informing them about the importance of aspirin.
  • Worse threats for women. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease in men mainly when other risk factors are present. In women, however, obesity alone increases risk. Diabetes hits the female heart harder, too.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media