Women, Heart Disease, and Stress: The Quiet Claiming of Lives
Ladies, if there’s one thing you need to focus on, it’s your heart. Trust me on this! Women have the same risk as men to suffer a heart attack or stroke but few of us consider it a health priority.
Women and heart disease aren’t often linked in mainstream media but they should be! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that more than 1-in-4 women die from coronary heart disease (CHD) every year.
It’s not just the #1 killer of men…it’s also the #1 killer of women. In 2013, heart disease claimed 289,758 female victims – almost the same death toll experienced by males.
That’s a single year.
CHD is when fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances (known as plaque) build up on the arterial walls. It’s the most common form of heart disease.
This buildup hardens and makes the pathway super narrow – sometimes blocking it completely. That makes it hard for your heart to get enough of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to function properly.
Heart disease affects women almost a decade later than men but their risk of dying from a heart event is higher. The bad news is that you may or may not experience any symptoms.
Different Forms of CHD
There are 4 different types of heart disease women might encounter. Heart attack, arrhythmia, heart failure, or stroke. Sometimes, symptoms are reported. Too often, there’s no warning.
- Pain in the chest, upper back, shoulder, or jaw
- Heart palpitations (“fluttering” sensation in the chest)
- Indigestion, heartburn, or nausea
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of extremities (hands, feet, ankles)
- Abdominal bloating
- Numbness in the face or extremities
- Loss of cognition (confusion, slurred speech, loss of coordination)
- Vision difficulties
- Severe headache
The good news is you can drastically lower your personal risk! Diet, exercise, and lifestyle habit changes (such as quitting smoking or lowering alcohol consumption) go a long way toward protecting your heart for decades to come.
The “Lifestyle Change” No One Remembers (Until It’s Too Late)
I want to talk to you about stress. It’s a silent killer that raises the risk of heart disease in women – along with every other major disease like obesity, diabetes, and cancer.
Everyone deals with stress at some level. It’s a natural reaction that stimulates an immune system response (also known as “fight or flight”).
Stress that lasts a few hours or a couple of days is acute. Traffic jams, long lines at the store, a confrontation with another person, or an emergency that drains your finances can lead to a short-term bout of stress.
Stress that lasts longer than a week is considered chronic. Triggers for chronic stress are typically bigger issues such as a sustained tense work environment, losing a loved one, or divorce. Stress that lasts months or even years breaks down your body a little at a time.
Chronic stress depletes your nutrients and vitamins (especially the B vitamins), which throws your hormones out of balance. This leads to massive system-wide inflammation caused by stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) as your body struggles to regain stability.
It’s a dangerous mix, happening at the cellular level, and you might not know the extent of the damage until it’s too late. Researchers determined that the physical effects of stress on women is much more drastic than it is with men.
Breaking the hold stress has over you will reap countless health benefits that you’ll begin to feel immediately with improved mood, better sleep, and sharper brain cognition. When you turn off those crazy stress hormones, your body breathes a sigh of relief.
To protect yourself from heart disease, women must understand the long-term (and devastating) toll it takes. Here are three simple yet valuable changes you can make to stop the madness.
- Examine your eating/drinking habits. Get rid of the pro-inflammatory foods (refined sugars, unhealthy fats, and processed choices) and cut back on the alcohol. Add a daily nutrition shake to boost your vitamin and mineral intake, drink more water, and don’t forget the veggies!
- Consider adding holistic therapy to your life. While it would be great if all of us could get a massage each week, it isn’t an option for many. There are free meditations and yoga sessions online that will dramatically alter your stress.
- Let your body have the sleep it needs. It’s a simple change so many overlook but getting adequate quality sleep is the simplest (and cheapest) modification you can make to improve your life and lower your stress. Sleep is when your body does repairs…let it work!
There’s so much more you can do…
Too many women die from heart disease every year. Heart disease kills more women than men every year and has since 1984. A woman dies every 60 seconds from heart disease (more women than all cancers combined).