It’s never too late for women to take charge of their heart health

By Sahar Ismail, MD

        According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. Amidst busy schedules, the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and everyday challenges, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of keeping our hearts healthy too.
        Women are especially at risk of developing heart disease. Why? Because we have several unique health factors that increase our risk. Women who in the past have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, ovarian dysfunction, or have gone through breast cancer therapy or hormonal therapy are more likely to develop heart disease.
        Also, compared to men, women are more likely to develop microvascular disease, spontaneous coronary artery dissections and cardiomyopathy.
        Learning to recognize the signs of heart disease can mean the difference between life and death. Signs include shortness of breath, persistent pain in the chest, jaw, throat, neck, the upper part of the stomach, back and arms. Other things to look out for include persistent fatigue, nausea and lightheadedness.
        But how do we know if our heart is actually failing? Symptoms of heart failure include chest discomfort, shortness of breath with exertion or even while lying flat, reduced appetite and swelling of the legs and feet. If you feel a combination of these things, it’s time to drop what you’re doing and seek medical attention.
        Your lifestyle and medical history also play a critical role in heart health. Are you considered obese? Do you smoke? Does your life include undue stress or frequent lack of sleep? Do you have uncontrolled diabetes or hypertension, or high cholesterol? Does a relative have a history of heart problems? All of these factors can increase your likelihood of developing heart disease.
        Prioritizing your health when something feels off can be one of the most important steps to receiving life-saving care. Too many of us juggle a multitude of daily tasks and find it hard to take the time to recognize abnormalities in our health. Making the time to check-in with yourself each day not only emotionally, but also physically can allow you to notice warning signs that something may be wrong. Educating yourself on these signs and symptoms of heart disease can be a great tool for understanding when to seek care.
        There are many actions you can take implement right now that can lead to a healthy heart. Know how to recognize the signs of heart disease and heart failure. Make small but significant changes to your daily lifestyle, including increasing the proportion of vegetables in your diet and reducing alcohol consumption. Get regular checkups from your primary care doctor.
        It’s never too late to take charge of your heart health.
Sahar Ismail, MD, is an Interventional Cardiologist with ProMedica Physicians Group.

By Sahar Ismail, MD
Interventional Cardiologist
ProMedica Physicians Group


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