Your health: Women and heart disease

Did you know that one in three women die of cardiovascular disease (all the diseases of the heart and circulation)and the same amount of men die from it too? Also, coronary heart disease kills three times more women than breast cancer; nearly 40,000 women a year die of CHD, 430,000 women in the UK are living with heart failure, and more than half a million women have had a stroke.

These figures may be surprising because for some reason we are conditioned to think that heart disease affects more men than women, so some women may not realise that heart disease can happen to them. They may be less aware of the risk factors, less likely to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and slower to ring 999 if they have a heart attack. Actually, nearly half a million women in the UK have had a heart attack.

It’s really important to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and act swiftly. Symptoms vary from person to person and you may not have all of these symptoms:

  • Mild or severe chest pain or discomfort which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, stomach or back
  • Dull ache or ‘heavy feeling’ in your chest (some describe it as having an elephant sat on their chest), tightness or squeezing sensation
  • Chest pain or discomfort similar to indigestion but makes you feel generally unwell
  • Or even no chest pain at all (for some women, older people and those with diabetes)
  • An overwhelming feeling of anxiety (similar to a panic attack)
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Feeling sick or being sick, sweaty, breathless, lightheaded, dizzy, feeling generally unwell, extreme fatigue

The British Heart Foundation recommends if you think you are having a heart attack, phone 999 immediately. You should then sit and rest while you wait for the ambulance to arrive.

If you are not allergic to aspirin and have some next to you, or if there is someone with you who can fetch them for you, chew an aspirin. However, if they are not nearby, the person with you should not go hunting for aspirin, they should stay with you. Do not get up and wander around the house looking for an aspirin. This may put unnecessary strain on your heart.

Prevention is better than cure though, so if you have any risk factors it is important they are addressed now to lower your risk of heart disease later!