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Heart Disease and Women: Do You Know Your Numbers?

Eighty percent of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented

Women dressed in red holding a heartThroughout the day, women receive plenty of reminders - cell phones chirp to confirm appointments and calendar alerts cue upcoming meetings, but the month of February has a life-saving reminder: it's American Heart Month.

The American Heart Association is asking women: "Do You Know Your Numbers?" as a way to bring focus to the numbers around Total Cholesterol, HDL (good) Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar and Body Mass Index (BMI). These numbers are important because they will allow you and your health care provider to determine your risk for developing cardiovascular disease by atherosclerosis. (The good news is that My HealtheVet offers you a way to track most of these numbers.

Heart disease in women

One in three women die from cardiovascular diseases and stroke each year, killing about one woman every 80 seconds. An estimated 44 million women in the U.S. are affected by cardiovascular diseases. 

Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke; however, 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education.

Symptoms of a heart attack in women

The symptoms of heart attack can be different in women versus men, and are often misunderstood - even by physicians. Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack. Women also have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.

Many women think the signs of a heart attack are unmistakable, like feeling as though an elephant is sitting on your chest or intense tingling in your arm. Heart attack signs for women can be subtle and sometimes confusing. Like men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are more likely than men to experience other heart attack signs, such as:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Back or jaw pain

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Challenge yourself this February

  1. Schedule a visit to talk with your provider about your numbers: weight (body mass index (BMI), waist circumference), blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and family medical history. Discuss your risk factors - from personal habits and life style to family history.

  2. Ask the right questions! Discussing your numbers with your provider should be an informative and comfortable experience. Do you know what questions to ask? Here are a few examples to get you started:

    • Can you explain each number to me and what it means?

    • What do you think about my current medication regimen?

    • Should I be concerned about anything?

    • Should I be concerned about anything in my family history?

    • Can you recommend a diet and exercise regimen?

  3. Renew your commitment to making small lifestyle changes that can lower your risk for cardiovascular diseases and reduce symptoms, such as briskly walking a few times a week, which could reduce the risk of coronary events in women by 30 to 40 percent, or talking with your provider about the right diet to manage your numbers, such as eating fruits and vegetables while cutting back on added sugars.

MyHealtheVet can help you manage your heart health: You can self-enter most of your numbers in the Track Health section and make it part of your Blue Button report. You can easily share this with your physicians in or out of the VA system.

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Track Health 

Beverly Buchanan: VA Nurse, Survivor (American Heart Association)

VA Women's Health Services

Created January 19, 2018