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Is there anything that puts women at particular risk of heart disease?

The same things that would put a man at risk of heart disease also put women at risk. These risk factors include increasing age, abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, inactivity, smoking, excess body fat, chronic stress, and heredity. An interesting study released by Mayo Clinic also identified poor dental hygiene as another risk factor for heart disease. Inflammation of gum tissue can be an indicator for other inflammation in the body, including coronary arteries.

While the risk factors are the same, heart disease affects women in different ways than men. On average, heart disease affects men about ten years earlier in life, suggesting that women may be protected from heart disease prior to menopause. However, heart disease can strike before and during menopause, affecting young and middle-aged women with certain risk factors. So it is important to know the signs and symptoms no matter what your age is.

A study released in the American Heart Association’s publication Circulation found that women experience atypical early warning signs of heart attack when compared to the classic symptoms in men – chest pain; pain in the arms, neck, jaw, back and/or upper abdomen; shortness of breath; or sweating. For women, the signs can be much more subtle, preventing women from seeking emergency medical attention when they should. The sooner a patient receives treatment to restore blood flow to the heart during a heart attack, the better her chances of survival.

The top 12 symptoms and the percentage of women who reported experiencing these symptoms before and during a heart attack:

In the month before a heart attack:
• Unusual fatigue (71%)
• Sleep disturbance (48%)
• Shortness of breath (42%)
• Indigestion (39%)
• Anxiety (36%)
• Heart racing (27%)
• Arms heavy/weak (25%)
• Changes in thinking/memory (24%)
• Vision change (23%)
• Loss of appetite(22%)
• Hands/arms tingling (22%)
• Difficulty breathing at night (19%)

During a heart attack:
• Shortness of breath (58%)
• Weakness (55%)
• Unusual fatigue (43%)
• Cold sweat (39%)
• Dizziness (39%)
• Nausea (36%)
• Arm heaviness or weakness (35%)
• Ache in arms (32%)
• Heat/flushing (32%)
• Indigestion (31%)
• Pain centered high in chest (31%)
• Heart racing (23%)

Unfortunately, women associate many of these symptoms with being overworked or stressed and are also more likely to place caring for others before caring for themselves. But women know their bodies better than anyone else; trust your instinct and the moment you feel that something isn’t right you need to see your doctor or visit the emergency room right away.

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