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Women and Heart Disease: UPMC Services in Central Pa.

Heart attacks don’t just happen to older men. In fact, heart attacks caused by coronary heart disease are the leading cause of death for American women. Because the symptoms of heart disease in women are unique, consulting an expert is recommended. The experts at UPMC's CardioVascular Institute can help you understand and manage your heart disease risk.

What should you do to manage your risk?

An important step toward staying healthy is to talk to your doctor and gauge your risks for heart disease with a cardiac risk assessment. Your doctor may recommend screening tests like calcium scoring and other preventive steps.

Common Risk Factors

Even though men and women may experience heart attacks differently, the risk factors are (for the most part) the same. The top 10 risks for women are:

  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history
  • Physical inactivity
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity and being overweight
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Birth control pills
  • Excessive alcohol intake

Many experts suggest that the increased heart attack rates among middle-aged women in the U.S. are a direct result of unhealthy lifestyle choices. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 35 percent of U.S. women are obese, making them more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease.

Know Your Heart Attack Symptoms

Because symptoms can be different for men and women, many women don’t realize that they are experiencing a heart attack until it is too late.

Unlike men, who often experience the feeling of “an elephant sitting on their chest,” women may demonstrate less-obvious symptoms, causing them to mistake a heart attack for a less life-threatening condition such as acid reflux, a pulled muscle or the flu. And, the symptoms are not always constant—some women report that their symptoms go away and come back later.

Common symptoms of heart attacks in women include:

  • Pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting
  • Weakness

Need more information?

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Harrisburg: 717-731-0101
Memorial: 717-849-5588

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