Although heart disease is often considered to be more of a problem for men, it is one of the most common causes of death for both women and men. However, symptoms of heart disease do differ between men and women which means that women often are unaware of what signs to look out for.
What are heart problems?
- Coronary Artery Disease. When the coronary arteries of the heart become narrow or blocked and are unable to supply enough blood to the heart.
- Heart Attack. When the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is completely blocked.
- Heart Failure. When the heart’s pumping action can’t work effectively and the heart muscle can’t meet the body’s demand for blood and oxygen.
- Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms). When the electrical signals within your heart are interrupted or disturbed, your heart can beat too quickly (called tachycardia), too slowly (called bradycardia) or in an irregular way..
- Valve Disease. Problems with the valves can increase the workload of your heart and can put a strain on your heart muscle which can lead to a range of symptoms.
Heart attack symptoms for women
Women are also more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms that are unrelated to chest pain. These can include:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
Heart disease risk factors for women
Heart disease risk factors for women include:
- Diabetes. Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men with diabetes. Also, because diabetes can change the way you feel pain, you're at greater risk of having a silent heart attack — without symptoms.
- Mental stress and depression. Stress and depression affect women's hearts more than men's. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment.
- Smoking. Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than it is in men.
- Inactivity. A lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease. Some research has found women to be less active than men.
- Menopause. Low levels of oestrogen after menopause pose a significant risk of developing disease in smaller blood vessels.
- Pregnancy complications. High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase the long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. These conditions can also make women more likely to get heart disease.
- Family history of early heart disease. This appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men.
- Inflammatory diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and others can increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.
How to reduce risk of heart disease
- Stop smoking and, if you don’t smoke, avoid exposure to second-hand smoke which also can damage blood vessels.
- Exercise regularly even if it’s just a daily walk.
- Maintain a healthy weight for you as advised by your doctor. If you are overweight, losing some weight can help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes.
- Eat healthily for your heart. Try to have a balanced diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein sources. Avoid saturated or trans fats, added sugars, and high amounts of salt where possible.
- Manage Stress levels. Stress can cause your arteries to tighten, which can increase your risk of heart disease, in particular, coronary microvascular disease.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Take your necessary medications as prescribed, such as blood pressure medications, blood thinners and aspirin.
- Manage other health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of heart disease.
Treatment for heart disease in women
Critical Illness Cover for heart problems
Heart problems can still occur even when all efforts are made to reduce the risk. Having critical illness insurance in place means that you are covered for treatments required for a number of heart problems. These include treatment for:
- Coronary artery angioplasty/stenting
- Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery
- Major vascular surgery