Screenings should include checks for elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. A waist circumference measure to calculate a woman’s BMI (body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight) is also important because being overweight is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Some women, depending on family history, symptoms, and cardiovascular disease risk factors, may need an electrocardiogram (EKG) or other tests to check for any existing heart conditions, according to the Orlando Health research team.
"Women can begin developing atherosclerosis, plaque in their arteries, in their teens and early twenties. Therefore, it is vital to understand risk factors and make appropriate life changes as early as possible," Demori said.
Taking care of your heart health involves more than screenings, she added. To prevent cardiovascular disease, women should eat a healthy diet and commit to regular physical activity.
"You don't have to participate in vigorous exercise. You can start by just walking, but it's extremely important to get into a routine of being active at least 30 minutes a day, at least 5 times a week," said Demori. "The more you do, the more benefit for your heart."
It’s also crucial to understand the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, which can manifest differently in women than in men. Men typically experience chest pain on the left side of their chest during a heart attack, and the pain commonly radiates to the left arm. Although women may also have those symptoms, it’s also common for them to feel extreme fatigue and weakness, indigestion, and shortness of breath. The American Heart Association notes women may experience numbness in one or both arms, dizziness, sweating, and nausea, as well.
Being aware of these heart attack signs, as well as understanding your own risk factors for heart disease, can help women know when they need to seek medical attention, according to Demori.
"Often women are too busy taking care of others that they don't take control of their own health,” she said. “It's extremely important to work on your health so you can be present for the ones you love."
March 03, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA