“Sadly, we are seeing more women with heart disease at a younger age,” Dr. Gretchen Wells, Gill Heart Institute‘s director of women’s heart health and the event’s featured speaker, said at the event. “It’s critical we help women understand that heart disease affects them differently, that their heart attack symptoms can be different than men’s, and that they shouldn’t put off seeing a doctor if they have symptoms.”
Wells explained that death rates for heart attacks are higher in women than in men primarily because “many women downplay their symptoms and/or don’t recognize them as symptoms of a heart attack until it is too late.”
Wells advised women to know what the symptoms of a heart attack are in women, noting that it is not always the typical “Hollywood Heart Attack.” She said women are more likely to experience chest pressure, chest discomfort, back pain, jaw pain or even tooth pain. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea or lightheartedness.
“Sadly, all of these symptoms mimic common illnesses like flu, and so women tend to dismiss them,” Wells said.
In general, the three most commonly reported heart attack symptoms in men are chest pain, chest discomfort and chest pressure, according to WebMD.
Wells encouraged women to “know their numbers,” including your waist size, which she said ” is a good way to predict heart disease.”
“Blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight and blood sugar are all factors that contribute to heart disease,” Wells said. “It’s critically important that you find out what your numbers are and take measures to correct anything that’s out of line.”
She also recommended paying attention to lifestyle factors and encouraged women to quit smoking, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, get 150 minutes of exercise a week and to find ways to reduce stress.
And just as important, she advised women to know their family history regarding heart disease, and to find out the specifics.
“Nothing would make me happier than to see our women commit to healthier living,” Wells said. “We are role models for our spouses, our children, and our peers, and we must learn to put our health first for our own sake and as a model for those who love us, admire us, and/or work with us.”