shutterstock_111753230There’s a popular belief that heart ailments are largely a male problem. Medical statistics, however, tell a different story. Over 60% of urban Indian women are vulnerable to cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a Saffolalife 2015 study. Three out of five women aged 35 to 45 are at risk. Even more alarming are findings by the Paris Cardiovascular Research Centre -- women are more likely than men to die following a heart attack.

Who is at risk?

Like men, women are also genetically predisposed to heart disease. While menopause does not cause CVD, post-menopausal women are at high risk. In younger women, low levels of estrogen have emerged as one of the main causes of heart diseases. Other factors such as diabetes and stress, hypertension, obesity, lack of exercise and an unhealthy lifestyle can all lead to heart ailments in women. Prolonged use of hormonal pills and painkillers can also cause clotting of blood in the arteries.

Recognize the symptoms

A shooting pain in the chest and arm is one of the most common signs of a heart attack…in men. In women, the symptoms manifest differently and that is why a heart condition can go unnoticed. Women with heart conditions experience silent symptoms – not the telltale ones – that are often downplayed as being routine ailments such as indigestion, flu or stress. In many instances, women do not report of any chest pain at all even when they are having a heart attack. Symptoms of heart disease in women are:
  1. Chest pain Unlike the shooting pain on the left side and arm that men experience, women experience a squeezing pain or feeling of fullness in the chest.
  2. Pain or tingling in one or both arms, neck, jaw and back This is a common symptom of cardiac arrest in women, but often dismissed as it is ‘atypical’. This pain can be sudden, occur at irregular intervals or build up slowly.
  3. Abdominal pressure or stomach pain Heartburn, flu, gas or other stomach-related ailments can indicate a serious problem.
  4. Shortness of breath and sweating A cold sweat and shortness of breath, despite having done no movement, are both warning signs.
  5. Fatigue and nausea Don’t dismiss tiredness as stress or nausea as a stomach bug.
  6. Swollen legs, feet and ankles When the heart doesn’t pump at a regular speed, blood accumulates in the veins and causes the body to bloat.
  7. Incessant cough This is a commonly overlooked symptom of CVD as it is usually associated with chest or throat infection. At the sign of pink or white mucus, call the doctor immediately. When the heart can no longer handle stress, it leaks blood into the lungs.
It can be difficult to tell if common ailments like a stomach upset, cough or fatigue are building up towards something more serious. Which is why it’s always better to rule out the possibility. If you have the slightest doubt, call a doctor and run your symptoms past him/her. If you’re not convinced you should get a professional opinion, consider this. In a 2013 study on heart disease in women conducted by the Heal Foundation, Bangalore, cardiologists interviewed revealed that a majority of cardio-related deaths in women occur due to late diagnosis or treatment.

Maintain good heart health

While seeking timely medical intervention is important, the most foolproof way you can safeguard yourself against heart disease is by leading a healthier lifestyle. Quit smoking and exercise regularly -- 150 minutes of physical activity weekly, according to the American Heart Association. Improve your diet to lower the levels of HDL cholesterol. Limit red meat, salt and saturated fats and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, chicken, fish and nuts. These changes will go a long way in preventing not just CVD but also many other ailments. Do you have questions about your health but no time to see a doctor? Download Dr 24x7 to speak to a physician any time, anywhere. The first consult is free.
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