If you’ve always thought of heart disease as being a disease suffered by elderly, beer-bellied, chain-smoking and stress imbued men, think again! These days, one of the demographic groups hardest hit by heart disease is that of menopausal women. As if you don’t already have enough to deal with at this time of life – what with the hot flashes, the hair loss, the depression and the night sweats…
Bye Bye Estrogen…Hello Heart Disease
It seems that with the loss of estrogen during menopause, the door is opened to factors which lead to increased heart disease. This is why younger women before menopause do not face the same risks of heart disease – they still have increased stores of estrogen. Estrogen then, in effect, is a protection against heart disease. Bummer for menopausal women:(
Risk Factors Which May Predispose You to Heart Disease
Being obese. It is well known that carrying too much weight puts unnecessary strain on your heart, causing it to work harder just for normal activities.
Lack of Exercise. Hand-in-hand with obesity, lack of exercise just exaggerates the problem of strain on the heart.
Smoking. This narrows the arteries, causing blockage in the blood flow to the heart.
Stress. With higher levels of stress, elevated levels of the stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flood the system. This leads to problems with the way the blood clots and increases the risk of heart attack. It also leads to inflammation and plaque build up in the arteries.
Depression. Heart Disease and Depression are strongly linked. Depressed people do not tend to care much for their health. Depression triggers stress hormones as we’ve already discovered, which can lead to heart disease.
Family History of Heart Disease. If you have close family members who have had a heart attack, you are predisposed to having a heart attack.
Diabetes. Your blood vessels can be damaged from high blood glucose levels due to diabetes.
High Blood Pressure which you are taking medication to control.
General Symptoms of Heart Attack
- Chest pain – a “squeezing” sensation which may be constant or occasional.
- Pain in the upper body – including left shoulder, jaw or arms.
- Sweating profusely
- Nausea and maybe vomiting
- Feeling light-headed and dizzy
- Difficulty breathing
- Anxiety and a feeling of “doom”
Additional Symptoms for Women
- Extreme fatigue, which may have a sudden onset which may last for several days.
- Shortness of breath
- Jaw pain or pain in the throat.
- Upper body pain which includes shoulders, neck or chest pain which may spread to your arm.
- Indigestion-like feelings.
- Sleep disturbances
Symptoms Most Commonly Associated With Women Over 50
- Extreme tightness in the chest or chest pain.
- Extreme sweating
- Change in heartbeat – either rapid beating or skipping a beat
- Upper body pain is evident – in the back, neck, jaw or arms
The scary thing about heart attacks happening to women is that they have less chance of surviving a heart attack than men do. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, 42% of women die within 1 year of having a heart attack compared to only 24% of men.
Furthermore, since 1984, the gap continues to widen between the survival rates of women and men after suffering a heart attack. Women are 3 times as likely to die as men after heart bypass surgery, and women tend to wait far longer than men to go to the emergency room with chest pain. Additionally, doctors are slower to recognize these women as having symptoms of heart attack due to their atypical symptoms of chest pain and EKG changes.
For me, the frightening thing is that the symptoms of heart attack so closely mimic other common complaints for menopausal women that it is not easy to identify. Things like sweating, dizziness, sleep disturbances and various aches and pains may be construed as “normal” issues of menopause. It seems like we must pay especial attention to chest pain, palpitations and pain in the jaw and upper body. Unfortunately, sometimes symptoms are easily overlooked or atypical.
It seems like the best prevention is not to travel down that road in the first place. Keep an eye on your weight, take in regular exercise, control your blood pressure and stop smoking. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, women’s hearts respond more positively to healthy lifestyle changes than men’s hearts, although very little governmental budget seems to be allocated to prevention of heart attacks.
Have you ever experienced any of these symptoms, or have you ever thought that you could be a candidate to have a heart attack? Please feel free to comment, or to share your experience which may help someone else.