Heart Disease in Women
Heart disease is any disease that affects the heart and blood-vessel system and includes: heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure. The death rate from heart disease increases as women age, especially after they reach menopause. More women than men die of heart disease each year. Women with heart disease often have different symptoms than men. Symptoms may be much more subtle and inconspicuous than in men and are many times overlooked. This often results in a delayed diagnosis of a heart condition, often at a later and more serious stage than men. The physicians of the Heart Medical Group are well educated in this phenomenon and have the training, skills and experience to treat cardiovascular (heart) disease in women.
Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women
Although both men and women tend to experience angina (chest pain) when having heart attacks, many women do not experience any chest pain at all. Because women tend to have blockages in the smaller arteries that supply blood to their heart, they typically have symptoms that include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Nausea or vomiting
During a heart attack, women may also experience neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort. These symptoms may be subtle and may come and go.
Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease in Women
A woman who has a family history of heart disease is at greater risk of developing it herself. However, the following lifestyle modifications can help reduce a woman's risk for developing heart disease:
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt
- Exercising regularly
- Managing weight
- Avoiding stress
- Regulating diabetes
- Monitoring blood pressure
- Reducing triglyceride levels
- Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption
Hormone replacement therapy is no longer recommended for postmenopausal women, as it puts women at a greater risk for heart disease. While women age 55 and older have an increased risk of heart disease, women of all ages should be concerned about heart health and make healthy lifestyle choices to prevent heart disease.
Patients who experience heart palpitations feel that their hearts are beating rapidly (tachycardia), fluttering, beating irregularly, or pounding. Normally, heart palpitations are not serious and are often triggered by stress, anxiety, exercise or certain medications. Heart palpitations may occur while the patient is sitting, standing, or lying down, during or immediately after strenuous activity, or during periods of rest. They are occasionally felt in the throat or neck, as well as in the chest.
Risk Factors for Palpitations
Individuals are at greater risk for palpitations if they fit into any of the following categories:
- Are highly stressed or prone to anxiety
- Are pregnant
- Take medications containing stimulants
- Have hyperthyroidism
- Have heart problems
- Consume excessive caffeine
- Smoke or drink alcohol to excess
- Use recreational drugs
Patients with fever, nausea or vomiting, anemia, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperthyroidism or lung disease are also susceptible to palpitations.
Complications of Palpitations
While occasional, fleeting palpitations do not normally require medical evaluation, palpitations that occur frequently, worsen, or are associated with other troubling symptoms, such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting, should not be ignored.
In rare instances, palpitations may be associated with one of the following:
- Sudden drop in blood pressure
- Life-threatening arrhythmia
- Cardiac arrest
- Heart failure
In such cases, diagnostic testing, such as heart or blood-pressure monitoring, is necessary.
Diagnosis of Palpitations
In order to diagnosis palpitations and their cause, one or more of the following tests may be administered:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)
- Stress test
- Holter monitor
If a heart condition is found to be the underlying cause of a patient's palpitations, lifestyle changes or medications may be prescribed or surgical intervention may be necessary. If serious causes of palpitations are ruled out, patients are typically advised to avoid triggers, such as excessive caffeine or alcohol, and medications with stimulating properties. If underlying non-cardiovascular conditions, such as hyperthyroidism or generalized anxiety disorder, are found to be causative, such issues must be medically addressed.