I recently read an article by a 37-year-old woman who was experiencing symptoms of severe heart problems but was repeatedly misdiagnosed by doctors who never tested her for cardiac issues. She was thin and athletic, after-all. Her extreme shortness of breath, dizziness and weakness were attributed to an allergy, asthma or anxiety by various doctors and emergency room staff. Even after an EKG showed she had had a heart attack, a hospital cardiologist dismissed it as a false positive. Only after she insisted did her regular doctor put her through extensive tests and discovered she not only had had a heart attack but was suffering from a serious, life-threatening condition as a result of not having been treated.
We think of heart disease as a “man’s” disease or one more likely to occur over age 65. Yet, each year in the United States, about 9,000 women under age 45 have heart attacks.
Many younger women, in particular, don’t believe they are having a heart attack. This is partially due to the fact that the symptoms in women are different from the chest pain associated with heart attacks in men. Women are more likely to experience a feeling of indigestion or burning, tightness and pain in the jaw or arm, shortness of breath or extreme fatigue.
Unfortunately, several studies have shown that women do not get the same care and treatment as men after being diagnosed with heart disease and are more likely to die as a result.
Control your risk factors
Your chances of having a heart attack or stroke in your lifetime depends on certain risk factors you have at age 45. Women with two risk factors – elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or smoking – have about a 30 percent chance, according to a study conducted at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Obesity and lack of exercise further increase your risk. The American Heart Association notes that if you can avoid the conditions that put you at risk for heart disease until you turn 50, chances are good that you may never develop it.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in America. The time to take your heart health seriously is now. Eat right, maintain a healthy weight and stay physically active. Plus, begin tracking your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, so that you can be treated early if need be, particularly if there’s a history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease in your family. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20.
February is American Heart Month. To learn more about cardiovascular disease, visit the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women website.