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While February was American Heart Month, we want to keep the celebration going and keep our hearts healthy year round. Right now, heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women, killing more than one third. More women than men die of cardiovascular disease each year. 

This Wellness Wednesday, we're breaking down:

  • Heart attack symptoms for women
  • What to do when you experience symptoms
  • Lifestyle changes you can make to prevent heart disease
  • How the Affordable Care Act (health reform) can help with heart disease prevention

Signs of a Heart Attack (and what to do next):

42 percent of women never experience the classic heart attack symptom of chest pain or pressure. So what should you look out for?

According to WebMD and a study by Circulation, the most common female heart attack symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lower chest discomfort
  • Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort that may feel like indigestion
  • Back pain

If you experience these symptoms or think that you’re having a heart attack, follow this advice from the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease:

CALL 911: Tell the dispatcher you are experiencing signs and symptoms of a heart attack. An ambulance will be sent to transport you to the closest hospital with emergency cardiac care facilities. DO NOT drive yourself or ask a friend or neighbor to drive you to the hospital. Aside from the ability to treat and resuscitate should your condition worsen, professional emergency personnel know the proper facilities to take patients. Many "nearest hospitals" have no capability of caring for acute coronary problems and being taken there only causes further life threatening delays while transfer to the right place is arranged. The extra 15 minutes in the ambulance to a farther way hospital could save hours of waiting for proper care.

Chew and swallow with water one regular full-strength aspirin as soon as possible. The aspirin will prevent further blood clotting.

Be your own health advocate. Insist that the hospital staff takes your complaint seriously, does not make you wait, and gives you a thorough cardiac evaluation including an electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram and a blood test to check your cardiac enzyme levels.


And whatever you do, don’t wait. Call 911 immediately. The sooner you can great treatment, the better. As the National Women’s Heart Coalition says “Time is heart muscle!”

Prevention: There are a few key lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your heart attack and heart disease risk.

  • Manage your stress: Try to actively work on reducing your stress. I know, it sounds like you're adding one more thing to your to do list, but even a couple minutes a day of active relaxation can help. The American Heart Association has tips and tools to help you develop a stress management plan. Also, following these tips and adding physical activity into your routine will automatically help with your stress management.
  • Pay attention to risk factors: Everything from age to ethnicity, family history to activity level, can make you more vulnerable to heart disease. Read WomenHeart's list of Risk Factors. You can also use their list of Risk Factor questions if you are interested in discussing your heart disease risk with your doctor.

How can Health Reform help?

The Affordable Care Act (health reform) has provided approximately 54 million Americans with at least one new free preventive service in 2011 through their private health insurance plans. By taking advantage of some of these preventive services, you can play an active role in preventing heart disease. Adult men and women, age 18-64, may be eligible for the following heart healthy preventive services:

  • Cholesterol and blood pressure screenings
  • Tobacco-use counseling
  • Healthy diet counseling and obesity screening
  • Depression screening

Click here to learn more about available free preventive services through the Affordable Care Act, as well as eligibility requirements.

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