Heart Disease In Women

Heart disease and stroke is the number one killer of women in Canada. Unfortunately, more than
half of women experiencing a heart attack present with symptoms that go unrecognized. A reason for this is because 2/3 of clinical studies done on heart disease and strokes are primarily
male studies, meaning that the test subjects are male (heartandstroke.ca). As a result of this
gender bias, many women are undiagnosed, undertreated and unaware of the risks.

Heart disease and cardiovascular disease are often used interchangeably.  It includes diseases of
the heart and blood vessels, abnormal heartbeats, also called arrhythmias, and heart defects you
are born with. (mayoclinic.org).

Atherosclerosis is arteries that become blocked due to buildup (plaque) on the inside of the
channels. Think of your arteries like your kitchen sink drain pipes. When the pipes are clean,
water flows down the drain without problems. However, if you were to pour oil (plaque) down
the drain (arteries) time and time again, eventually the oil will solidify and start to build up. Over
time, the pipes (arteries) will become blocked.  When your arteries are blocked, blood can no
longer be pumped effectively to your heart and as a result, you experience a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack vary from individual to individual. These symptoms also vary from
male to female. The most common symptoms in men are shortness of breath, chest
pain/tightness, pain or numbness in extremities (hands, arms, feet and legs), pain in the neck,
jaw, upper back and abdomen (mayoclinic.org). However, for women chest pain, chest tightness or
blood pressure are not necessarily the most common symptoms, which is why so many cases of heart
attacks in women go undetected. Symptoms also include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Indigestion.

If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 as soon as possible.
Risk factors for heart disease in women also vary from men.

  •  Mental stress and depression- stress affects female bodies differently from male bodies.
    Depression causes a low mood and problems caring for yourself and difficulty making
    healthy choices.
  • Smoking – affects female bodies differently than men
  • Menopause – fluctuations in hormones can increase your risk to develop disease in your
  • Pregnancy complications – the factors include the development of gestational diabetes, high
    blood pressure during pregnancy or preeclampsia
  • Family history of early heart disease is showing to be more of a risk factor for women
    versus men. (mayoclinic.org)
  • Women of Indigenous, South Asian, Chinese and African Caribbean descent are at an
    increased rate of heart disease and poorer outcomes compared to Caucasian

To decrease your risk of developing the cardiovascular disease the best time to start is right now.
There are many things we can do every day.

  • Weight management – having a healthy Body Weight Index (BMI) is important to
    decrease your risk of developing a multitude of diseases, not just heart disease. A BMI
    below 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5 to 25 is normal, 25 to 30 is overweight and
    30 and over is obese. In order to figure out your own BMI, you can use one of the
    following formulas:
  1. Weight (in kg) ÷ height (m2) = BMI
  2. Weight (in lbs) × 703 ÷ height (inches squared) =BMI
    • Daily exercise, moderate exercise totalling 150 minutes/week or 75 minutes of vigorous
      exercise per week. Wearable exercise trackers such as Fitbit and Garmin help to keep
      track of the amount of exercise you do per day (and week).
    • Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan. Start slowly and
      work up to the recommended weekly amount if you are brand new to exercise.  Sore
      muscles are common after physical activity but don’t give up.
    • Eat a healthy diet. Eating fresh foods such as vegetables and fruit (that do not come out of
      a package) is the best choice for your body. If you choose to eat meat, pick lean meats,
      preferably grass-fed.
    • Reduce alcohol consumption
    • Quit smoking – Easier than it sounds, smoking is an addiction that is tough to overcome.
      Your doctor can help you choose a smoking cessation program to accomplish this.
    • Follow recommendations made by your doctor – by following your treatment plan, you
      have the best chance of success to achieve the healthiest and best version of you.

Imagine Health is here to help you. If you have any questions or concerns, come see us today at
one of our Edmonton or Calgary locations.

To read more about women and heart disease, please visit www.heartandstroke.ca.

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