Understanding women’s heart health is a vital part of your wellness journey. More than 60 million women (44%) in the United States are living with some form of heart disease. February, recognized as American Heart Health Month, provides an opportunity to focus on the well-being of your heart health as heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.
What is the most common heart problem for women?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common heart problem for women. It occurs when the blood vessels supplying the heart with oxygen and nutrients become narrowed or blocked, often leading to chest pain or discomfort known as angina.
It’s important to know the difference between heart failure and a heart attack. These are two distinct cardiovascular conditions, each with its own set of causes, symptoms, and implications.
Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction):
Cause: A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart muscle is blocked. This blockage is often due to the formation of a blood clot in a coronary artery, usually as a result of plaque buildup.
Symptoms of a heart attack in women:
- Chest Pain or Discomfort: Typically described as a crushing, squeezing pain in the chest.
- Pain Radiating to Other Areas: Can extend to the arms, neck, jaw, or back.
- Shortness of Breath: Often accompanied by sweating, nausea, and anxiety.
- Fatigue: Sudden weakness or extreme tiredness.
If you have these symptoms get immediate medical attention. Treatment may involve medications or angioplasty (a medical procedure to restore normal blood flow to the heart,) or surgery. If you have these symptoms get immediate medical attention.
Cause: Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood effectively, leading to insufficient oxygen and nutrients reaching the body’s tissues. It can result from conditions such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, or a previous heart attack. The symptoms are:
- Shortness of Breath: Especially during physical activity or when lying down.
- Persistent Coughing or Wheezing: Due to fluid buildup in the lungs.
- Fluid Retention: Swelling in the legs, ankles, or abdomen.
- Fatigue and Weakness: Resulting from the heart’s inability to meet the body’s demands.
Heart failure is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management. Treatment may include medications, lifestyle changes, and in severe cases, devices like pacemakers or defibrillators.
What are the key differences?
A heart attack is an acute event caused by a blockage in the coronary arteries, leading to damage to the heart muscle. Heart failure is a chronic condition characterized by the heart’s inability to pump blood effectively, leading to a range of symptoms.
While a heart attack is a sudden event, heart failure tends to develop gradually over time. A heart attack requires immediate emergency care, while heart failure is managed through long-term treatment and lifestyle changes.
It’s important to note that individuals can experience both conditions. Having a heart attack can contribute to the development of heart failure. Regular medical check-ups, early detection, and appropriate management are crucial for individuals at risk or experiencing symptoms related to heart health.
Checking your Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
One of the non-invasive tests you can do is called a Heart Rate Variability test. This measures the variation in time between consecutive heartbeats, providing insights into the autonomic nervous system’s activity and overall cardiovascular health. An HRV is sometimes used in clinical settings to assess autonomic function and cardiovascular risk.
A fully qualified Nutrition Response Testing® practitioner will do a heart variability rate test on your first visit.
If you are a woman over the age of 35, make it a priority to get educated on your heart health this month. Learn the signs and symptoms. It is imperative to understand that the symptoms can manifest differently in women than in men. Get an HRV done this month. Heart health should be at the forefront of your wellness journey.