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Heart disease


woman and a baby
Photo courtesy of
Albuquerque Area Dental Support Center


Learn more about the signs of a heart attack from womenshealth.gov.

Heart disease is the number one killer of American women. Heart disease is a group of diseases of the heart and the blood vessel system in the heart. Coronary artery disease, the most common type, affects the blood vessels of the heart. It can cause angina (an-JEYE-nuh) or a heart attack. Angina is a pain in the chest that happens when the heart does not get enough blood. It may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain, often in the chest, but sometimes in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. Having angina means you're more likely to have a heart attack. A heart attack happens when a clot mostly or completely blocks blood flow to the heart muscle.

Signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort — pressure, squeezing, or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort in the upper body — arms, shoulder, neck, back
  • Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating

Women can also have less common symptoms, including:

  • Unusual tiredness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Problems breathing
  • Indigestion (upset stomach)
  • Anxiety (feeling uneasy or worried)

If you think you are having a heart attack, you must act quickly to prevent disability or death. Wait no more than a few minutes — five at most — before calling 911.

American Indians and Alaska Natives have a very high risk of heart disease. They also die from heart disease at younger ages than other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Native women have high rates of diabetes, overweight and obesity, and high blood pressure, which are factors that increase heart disease risk. What's more, many American Indian and Alaska Native women smoke cigarettes and/or are physically inactive — both which also raise heart disease risk.

You have the power to fight heart disease! Read on for some tips to keep your heart healthy.

  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
      or
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
      or
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
      and
    • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. Eat whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruit. Choose lean meats and low-fat cheese and dairy products. Limit foods that have lots of saturated fat, like butter, whole milk, baked goods, ice cream, fatty meats, and cheese.
  • Know your numbers. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides) and blood glucose (sugar). Follow your doctor's orders to keep your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels under control.
  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. For help along the way, check out our Quitting Smoking section.

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More information on Heart disease

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • Heart Disease Fact Sheet - This fact sheet on women and heart disease includes information about risk factors, prevention, and treatment of heart disease.
  • Make the Call, Don't Miss a Beat - Not all women have chest discomfort or other common symptoms during their heart attack. Use this website to learn more about the symptoms of a heart attack in women and what to do if you think you are experiencing a heart attack.

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Content last updated May 18, 2010.

Resources last updated May 18, 2010.

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