It’s a fact: mothers typically put their families first and themselves last.
But in order to take care of their loved ones, mothers have to first take care of themselves.
While heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women worldwide, more women than men die of the disease, according to Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical practice and medical research group based in Rochester, Minnesota with major campuses in Arizona and Florida.
Heart disease is not just a condition of the elderly, so young moms also need to be aware of symptoms and risks unique to women.
Know the symptoms
The most common heart attack symptom in women is pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But in women, more than men, the pain is not necessarily severe, as most people think. The reason is because women are more prone to blockages in their smaller arteries as well as their main arteries, called small vessel heart disease or microvascular disease.
Women also differ from men in that their symptoms often occur while they’re resting or asleep. Women sometimes have a heart attack with no chest pains at all. Some other symptoms women experience include:
? Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
? Shortness of breath
? Right arm pain
? Nausea or vomiting
? Lightheadedness or dizziness
? Unusual fatigue
Understand the risk factors
Another difference between men and women relates to smoking, one of the most significant heart disease risk factors for everyone. Smoking releases nicotine which narrows arteries and carbon monoxide which damages the inner lining of arteries, thereby limiting blood flow and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
Studies have shown that smoking is a more dangerous risk factor in women than in men, according to Mayo. A woman who smokes is twice as likely to have a heart attack as one who does not, so quitting smoking is one of the best ways a woman can lower her risk of heart disease.
Obesity is another major risk factor in developing heart disease, also more so in women than in men. Excess weight is particularly dangerous because it often triggers other medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which make women more susceptible to heart disease. According to Mayo, a large study showed that women who are obese experience heart attacks eleven years earlier, on average, than similar women who are not obese.
Keep a lower BMI
Maintaining a body mass index below 25 reduces heart disease risk, as does keeping a waist measurement below 35 inches. Mayo recommends moderate exercise, like a brisk walk for 30 to 60 minutes a day, all at once or divided into several 10- to 15-minute blocks for the same benefit. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking or riding a bicycle instead of driving also brings benefits.
Pay attention to other conditions
Other health conditions can leave women more at risk of heart disease, including inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which are more common in women. Both increase heart disease risk by at least two to three times.
Women are at greater risk of developing heart disease if they had high blood pressure during pregnancy. Also, the female hormone estrogen decreases after menopause making women more susceptible to heart disease. Women who have premature menopause — at age 40 or younger — and who do not receive hormone therapy are significantly more likely to develop heart disease than other women.
Prevent the flu
Women can also lower their risk of heart disease by getting a flu shot. A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that the flu vaccine lowers the chance of developing heart disease and lowers the chance of dying from heart disease.
Eat healthy foods (and put out that cigarette!)
The good news is that more than 80 percent of heart disease is preventable by living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. Be physically active and maintain a healthy body weight. And, if you smoke, quit.