There's a lack of awareness among women about the danger posed by heart disease, a theme Dr. Shyla High explores in a new book.
“Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women and has killed more women than men every year since 1984,” said High, a cardiologist at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital. “There's a disconnect between that indisputable fact and the awareness that women have about that.”
High recently authored “Why Most Women Die — How Women Can Fight Their No. 1 Killer: Heart Disease.”
How prevalent is heart disease among women?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Oklahoma and the U.S., according to the state Health Department.
It is also a leading cause of disability among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
High said although there has been a successful campaign regarding breast cancer, women aren't as aware of their risk for developing heart disease.
“Women tend to be caregivers and not necessarily caretakers of themselves,” High said. “The time of life that we develop heart disease we tend to be focusing on our parents and kids in college and our careers. We tend to take care of the pot that is boiling and not the one that may be simmering.”
What are the symptoms of a heart attack in a woman?
Although women do suffer from chest pain or discomfort when having a heart attack, they often don't recognize when they're having a heart attack.
“The problem is that women have a higher incidence of unusual, more vague symptoms, such as maybe a new onset of fatigue, shortness of breath, back and shoulder pain, (and) abdominal pain,” High said.
High said women often will think they're suffering from acid reflux or other digestive problems.
The American Heart Association reports that heart attack signs in women including:
Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
What can women do to help prevent heart disease?
The best way to help prevent heart disease is to exercise, eat a healthy diet and not smoke.
“It's never too late to get on the heart healthy highway,” High said. “In your early to mid-adult years, it's important to know your numbers — your blood pressure, your cholesterol and whether you have pre-diabetes.”
Most Americans do not get enough exercise, even though it plays a critical role in a person's mood, ability to fall asleep, intimacy and weight control.
High said it's important to find an exercise routine that fits you, whether that be using a workout tape at home, walking outdoors or joining a gym.
“You can't have the body you want if you're sitting on the body you have,” High said.