We’re used to seeing dramatic Hollywood depictions of heart attacks in men. But heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. The American Heart Association reports that one woman dies of heart disease every minute in America.
Heart Disease is a Women’s Issue
Harvard Health reports that this “heart attack gender gap” can have serious consequences for women. With less awareness of crucial heart-health risk factors and warning signs, many women lack effective prevention strategies or delay life-saving care.
Though heart disease is deadly, it is also largely preventable. Making heart health part of the conversation for women has the power to save lives. Here’s what our pharmacists think every woman should know about protecting and supporting their hearts.
Know Your Baseline
The first step in building a heart-health strategy is understanding your individual risk for heart disease. Make sure to undergo any necessary screenings, and discuss risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and age with your doctor at your annual checkup. You’ll want to go over your lifestyle and family history and identify your key health numbers, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
According to the American Heart Association, research has uncovered a link between heart disease and pregnancy-related complications. Talk with your doctor if you were diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension during pregnancy or if you had an early delivery. These factors may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease in the future, so it’s essential to be aware and take steps to mitigate that risk.
Learn the Signs of a Heart Attack
All women must understand the signs of a heart attack and the importance of seeking immediate medical attention. Research suggests that women tend to downplay symptoms and delay treatment—a life-threatening issue during a heart attack when every minute counts.
According to the CDC, the most common signs of a heart attack for both men and women are chest pain or pressure; sharp pain in the jaw, neck, or back; and shortness of breath. However, only about 60% of women experience chest pain or discomfort during a heart attack. Studies suggest that women are more likely to experience less recognizable symptoms like nausea, dizziness, cold sweats, and unexplained fatigue.
If you experience any discomfort in your chest or upper body or simply feel that something isn’t right, it’s crucial to seek emergency medical attention. Treatment is most effective if given within one hour of the onset of symptoms, so take these symptoms seriously and do not delay care.
Make “Heart Health” a Lifestyle
The CDC reports that approximately 200,000 preventable deaths occur each year in the United States due to heart disease and stroke. That’s why it’s so important to put heart-health strategies into place early. Try to augment your diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and fiber-rich whole grains while limiting sodium, saturated fats, alcohol, and sugar. Aim for balanced nutrition that you can maintain over time; a little dietary leeway is your best bet for success in the long term.
Numerous studies have connected poor sleep to heart disease. Not only does a lack of sleep put stress on the body, but it also makes you less likely to exercise and make other healthy choices. If you constantly find yourself cutting back on sleep to tend to your to-do list, it’s time to prioritize rest.
The American Heart Association recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night to help your body function at its best. Smartphones and other screens are known to disrupt sleep if used at bedtime, so try to power down as early as you can. You might also try using a blue-light blocking filter on your devices at night. Apple devices have a built-in blue-blocking function called “Night Shift,” or you can try out popular apps like Twilight or f.lux.
It’s also vital that women find ways to manage stress in their daily lives. According to the Mayo Clinic, women's hearts are impacted by stress and depression more than men’s. Stress causes inflammation in the body, which has been linked to heart-health risk factors like high blood pressure and lower “good” HDL cholesterol. It also negatively impacts sleep and may make you less likely to exercise and eat well.
A comprehensive report on “Stress in America” by the American Psychological Association found that exercise and listening to music were the most popular stress reducers for both men and women. However, women are more likely to find social and sedentary activities relaxing, such as spending time with friends or reading. While daily physical activity is a crucial heart-health strategy, it’s also essential for women to reach out to their social networks and find time to relax and unwind.
Be Your Own Advocate
Last year, Harvard Health reported on a recent study, which suggested that women are less likely to be prescribed aspirin, statins, and certain blood pressure medications than men. Experts attribute this discrepancy, in part, to the general lack of awareness about heart disease in women, which can cause both healthcare providers and patients to miss critical warning signs.
All men and women, regardless of age, should routinely visit their doctor for the necessary heart-health screenings. During these visits, ask your doctor about your individual risk for heart disease, and discuss the risks and benefits of taking cardiovascular medications, if necessary. It’s also crucial to listen to your body and not minimize or explain away any early warning signs of heart trouble. Take any symptoms seriously and seek immediate help.
While it’s essential to be your own advocate when it comes to your health, we’re here to support you with exceptional pharmacy care every step of the way. If you are prescribed medications for your heart, our pharmacists would be happy to walk you through dosage instructions and answer your questions. We’ll look for any available savings so you can be sure you’re getting the lowest price, and we’ll deliver your medications to your home for free. Simply tell your doctor to send your new prescription to Alto or contact our care team, and we’ll transfer your existing prescriptions for you.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.