February is American Heart Month. During this time, organizations like the American Heart Association increase their efforts to raise awareness of the genetic and lifestyle factors that put people at higher risk for cardiac diseases. One issue that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is how differently women experience heart disease in terms of symptoms, recovery, and survival rates.
Those who are caregivers might not be aware that research shows caregiving is also linked to increased risk for heart disease. That the caregiver role falls on women more than men is just one reason to take time to learn about heart disease prevention and symptoms of a problem.
Women and Heart Disease by the Numbers
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in this country. That translates to one in every three women and nearly 300,000 deaths a year. Almost every minute, a woman loses her life to cardiovascular disease.
Here’s what we know about cardiac-related diseases and heart attacks among women:
- According to the American Heart Association, 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease at some point in their lives.
- African American women are at especially high risk for heart attacks and strokes. Researchers believe it may be due to a genetic sensitivity to salt, which in turn increases the likelihood of high blood pressure.
- Women tend to experience more serious outcomes than men after a heart attack. During the year following a heart attack, women are over 50% more likely to die. Over the next six years, a woman is nearly twice as likely to suffer a second heart attack.
- Because the symptoms of a heart attack differ in women, they might not receive the emergency care they need as quickly as men.
Know the Risk Factors: Preventing Coronary Artery Disease
What can women do to prevent heart disease? While some risk factors are genetic, such as a family history of high cholesterol, 80% are linked to lifestyle choices. A few steps you can take to protect your heart from disease include:
- Exercise 30 minutes most days of the week
- Avoid a sedentary lifestyle—stay moving
- Get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night
- Keep your weight at a level your doctor says is healthy
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein
- See your doctor regularly and stay on track with health screenings
- Find positive ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, or journaling
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol level
- If you have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to control it
Equally important is avoiding behaviors known to increase the risk for heart disease, such as:
- Consuming too much alcohol—one glass a day or less is usually the recommended limit for women
- Eating foods high in trans fats, like baked goods, fried foods, and many types of frozen dinners
- Smoking—it can increase your risk for heart disease by 2 to 4 times that of a non-smoker
Caregivers and Heart Disease
It’s particularly important for women who are caregivers to be aware of the role chronic stress plays in heart disease. Living with chronic stress, as most caregivers do, can wreak havoc on your heart health. Caregivers are more likely to consume unhealthy foods, skip exercising, and not get enough quality sleep. Each can contribute to the development of cardiac disease.
While assuming the caregiver role for someone you love can be incredibly rewarding, it also puts you at higher risk for coronary heart disease than non-caregiving peers. This is especially true if you are the caregiver for someone with dementia.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women
First, it’s important for women to know that symptoms of heart attack are different for women than they are for men. The image most people associate with a sudden heart attack, for example, is someone painfully clutching their chest. While that is a common warning sign for men, women don’t always experience that painful squeezing pressure in their chest.
For women, the signs can be more subtle and are easy to mistake for something else. A woman who is having a heart attack might exhibit symptoms not commonly recognized as warning signs of a cardiac episode, including:
- Back pain
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme fatigue
- Jaw or neck pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Chest pain or pressure in the lower chest
- Pain or pressure in the upper abdomen
This is in contrast to the most common symptoms of a heart attack among men, which usually include squeezing chest pain, jaw, neck, or back pain, nausea, and shortness of breath.
Be Heart Smart at Every Age
While age does increase your risk for heart-related medical conditions, younger adults are experiencing more cardiac problems than ever before. Researchers believe this is linked to the obesity epidemic caused by a poor diet and lack of exercise. 7 Tips for Living Heart Healthy offers suggestions to help you prevent cardiac diseases through lifestyle management.
Support for Caregivers at Clearwater Living
If caregiving is taking a toll on your physical or mental health, a senior living community can provide the support you need to regain your sense of well-being. In addition to long-term solutions, Clearwater Living offers respite care. It’s designed to give caregivers a break, while keeping their loved one safe and engaged. Short-term respite guests enjoy the same services and amenities as residents do.
Call the Clearwater Living community nearest you to learn more about a short-term stay today!