Although the risk of heart disease in women has been publicized recently with the help of the American Heart Association's "Go Red" campaign, many women – and healthcare professionals – still may think that the typical heart disease patient is a middle-aged man. As a result, they may fail to see crucial signs that point to the presence of heart disease in women.
If you're a woman, here's what you need to know about protecting your heart:
•Realize the risk.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., but women often dismiss symptoms, according to the American Heart Association. They may mistake it for another, less serious illness or stress, and even if they think they may be having a heart attack, some just take an aspirin and never call 911.
Only 13 percent of women in an American Heart Association survey said that heart disease is their greatest personal health risk. Instead, they were more concerned about getting breast cancer, despite the fact that heart disease kills six times more women every year when compared to breast cancer.
•Take preventative steps.
The American Heart Association recommends that you make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your individual risk for heart disease. In addition, if you smoke, you should quit, and it also helps to start an exercise program. Even walking for 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk. Eating a healthy diet that's low in saturated fats and processed foods and high in fiber can also improve your heart health.
Risk factors such as increasing high blood pressure during menopause, experiencing depression or high levels of stress or having an autoimmune disease increase a woman's risk of having heart disease, according to John Hopkins Medicine. If these apply to you, you may want to take additional preventative steps.
•Learn the warning signs.
In some cases, warning signs of a heart attack can occur a month or so before the actual event occurs, according to Harvard Medical School. These include unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion, anxiety, a racing heart and a heavy or weak feeling in your arms.
During a heart attack, women may experience the classic crushing chest pain that men often have, but it can also be accompanied by other symptoms that could make you wonder whether you're really having a heart attack. You may even have an absence of obvious chest pain, John Hopkins Medicine said. Women are more likely than men to have symptoms such as back pain, indigestion and shortness of breath. They may also feel weak or dizzy, break out into a cold sweat or feel unusually tired.