When people think about a heart attack, they usually imagine the victim grabbing at their chest and collapsing to the ground. While this dramatic version of a heart attack can happen, symptoms are usually less obvious, particularly for women. Sure, women feel the pressure in their chests that men do, but many experience vague symptoms that are not immediately attributed to a heart attack. While generally construed as a man's disease, more women die every year of heart disease than men. To save lives, both patients and doctors need to pay closer attention.
The Heart of the Matter
The heart is a very efficient organ, pumping nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to all muscles in the body, including the heart itself. Compromise blood flow to the heart muscle and cells begin to die, electrical nodes that control the heart's rhythm go haywire, and the heart is no longer a well-organized pump.
Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of a heart attack. It occurs when the arteries are clogged with plaque deposits that prevent blood from flowing freely. Comprised of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other debris, the plaque can partially or totally block the flow of blood and promote blood clots. Over time, the plaque thickens in a process known as atherosclerosis. Clots can travel to vessels of the heart, lungs and brain. Left untreated, atherosclerosis can lead to a heart attack, stroke and death.
Factors that up your risk for heart disease include
- Smoking tobacco
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL and high LDL cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese