Healthy Hearts. Happy Women

– Written by Vanderbilt Nursing Students

February is American Heart Health Month

The best way to celebrate the month of love is to learn about the heart! Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women in the United States. Coronary Heart Disease, hypertension, and stroke fall under the umbrella term of heart disease.


According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing almost 300,000 women a year – 6 times the number of women who will die of breast cancer.

Heart disease is, for the most part, due to lifestyle factors with 90% of women having one or more risk factors.

The lack of education surrounding heart disease and its effects on women has led to poorer outcomes for women experiencing heart disease than men. Studies have shown that women are less likely to understand they are experiencing a heart attack than men due to differences in symptoms. Women are also less likely to seek treatment.

Women are also treated less aggressively than men following a diagnosis involving heart disease. In order to combat these differences, it is important for women to understand ways to prevent heart disease as well as to learn to identify when they may be experiencing a heart attack or symptoms of heart disease.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a group of problems that occur when the heart and blood vessels are not working the way they should. This can mean that the heart itself is not beating correctly or can be caused by plaque buildup in the arteries that supply oxygen to the heart muscle itself. This means that the heart cannot supply the body with the blood and oxygen it needs to function. Due to the lack of oxygen, other parts of the physical symptoms often manifest and signal to the person that something is not right.

How to live a heart-healthy lifestyle!

Quit Smoking: Smoking is a major cause of heart disease. Your risk of heart diseases increases the longer and the more you smoke. Female smokers have a higher risk of heart disease than male smokers. If you do smoke, “quiet lines” have been set up in every state to provide you with professional help for smoking cessation. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet: A heart-healthy diet is one of your best weapons to fighting heart disease. A heart-healthy diet focuses on vegetables, fruits, beans, and low-fat dairy products. It’s important to limit red meat, sugary foods and drinks, and sodium. A good way to start eating a heart-healthy diet is by cutting down fast food, which is full of fat, salt, and sugar.

Limit Use of Drugs and Alcohol: Use of drugs and alcohol may lead to adverse cardiovascular effects, such as increased blood pressure and buildup of plaques. Limiting (or eliminating) alcohol intake is a great way to take care of your heart.

Get Daily Exercise: Regular exercise strengthens your heart and promotes the health of your blood vessels. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week.

How to know if you are having a heart attack

The most common symptoms of heart attack are

  • chest pain
  • pressure or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes
  • symptoms in women
    • shortness of breath
    • nausea/vomiting
    • neck, back, or jaw pain
    • abdominal discomfort
    • indigestion
    • unusual fatigue
    • lightheadedness or dizziness
    • sweating


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