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Minority Women's Health

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Heart disease

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

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.

Higher rates of diabetes, cholesterol, obesity, and high blood pressure increase the risk of heart disease for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. Heart disease is a major cause of death and disability for this population. 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
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
    • 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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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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