Contributed by Barbara Y.

Heart disease kills more women than cancer in the United States, yet it is often not discussed. Lack of awareness (less than half of women know that heart disease is the number one killer among women) and the belief that “a heart attack won’t happen to me,” are common among women. More importantly, there are two important facts that exacerbate the problem:

Different warning signs than men.  Women often report feeling “off,” or tired before a heart attack.  For instance, they could be doing normal work and need to rest often whereas before they were able to carry out the task without needing to take breaks.

Testing methods. The tests used to detect heart disease do not work as well for women as they do for men.  EEGs performed on women often produce false postives. X-rays to measure the size of blood vessels also do not work well for women since blood vessels in women are smaller than those in men and some cannot be seen.  Imaging tests taken before and after exercise provide more accurate results for testing heart disease in women.

When women better understanding the unique signs of heart disease and the preventative steps that can be taken, chances of promoting heart health are greatly improved. Here are some guidelines about warnings and preventative approaches that can help improve heart education among women:

Warning signs of a heart attack include chest or abdominal pressure or pain, exhaustion, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and back pain.

Warnings of heart disease include shortness of breath and chest tightness which signals narrowed arteries, high blood pressure, low HDL and high LDL cholesterol levels.

Factors that can contribute to heart disease include diabetes which damages blood vessels; increased belly fat which lowers the body’s ability process carbohydrates completely; increased inflammation, blood clotting and high blood pressure.

Women can prevent heart diesase by taking the following actions:

  • Movement. Waking a recommended 10,000 steps a day, which can be easily measured with a pedometer, and regular (i.e., three times a week) aerobic exercise helps keep the blood pumping and reduce stress which in turn can lower blood pressure.
  • Regular physicals. Checking blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels annually will help you keep tabs on these important diagnostics.
  • Nutritional changes. Eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fatty fish that contain omega-3 such as mackerel, herring, lake trout, blue fin tuna, salmon.
  • Lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking helps decrease blood pressure.

What other changes are you aware of that can help reduce the risk of heart disease? We invite you to share your ideas in the comment box below.