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The impact of heart disease on women

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Heart health is vital. Despite widespread recognition of the importance of a healthy heart, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death around the world. CVD includes coronary artery disease and other issues affecting the heart or blood vessels.

Even though heart disease affects both men and women, it’s often mistakenly seen as a condition that mostly affects men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that heart disease, namely coronary artery disease, is the leading cause of death for women and those assigned female at birth. It occurs when plaque develops in the walls of the arteries and slows down the flow of blood supply to the heart and other parts of the body. Women are particularly at risk because, after menopause, hormone changes like a reduction in the production of estrogen can cause higher risk of coronary heart disease, especially in smaller blood vessels.

In addition to hormonal changes after menopause, the risk factors for heart disease in women include:

• Diabetes: Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men with diabetes. There’s also an increased risk of silent heart attack since diabetes can change the way women perceive pain.

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• Mental health: Emotional stress and depression can affect women’s hearts more than men’s, as depression may compromise a woman’s ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

• Smoking: Smoking is another risk factor for heart disease.

• Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle increases heart disease risk.

• Inflammatory diseases: Individuals with arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory conditions may be at an elevated risk for heart disease.

Learning about the warning signs of heart attack and stroke can help women stay on top of their health. Here’s what to look for, courtesy of GoRedForWomen.org.

Heart attack
• 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.

• Cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness.

• Chest pain or discomfort.

Stroke
• Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

• Sudden confusion or trouble communicating.

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Women mindful of the risk factors of heart disease as well as the symptoms of heart attack and stroke may be better positioned to protect their long-term heart health.

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