Heart health is one of the most important aspects of overall well-being, and it can be a tricky one to manage when you are affected by it. Most women are unaware of the risks associated with post-COVID-19 heart-related problems. Adequate cardiovascular health is a key component to overall health, longevity and quality of life, especially for those at risk.
Heart disease is among the leading causes of death worldwide. Women are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, almost getting equivalent to men in its incidence, due to larger body fat distribution, genetic factors, menstrual cycle changes and hormonal imbalances, increasing lifestyle diseases and socio-economic constraints.
Don’t leave these symptoms
The most common cause of heart disease is a heart attack, that is, a block in the arterial blood vessels supplying blood to the heart resulting in the reduction of blood supply to particular areas of the heart. This can be fatal at the first presentation itself. Women tend to have fewer symptoms of heart disease, and often do not even recognize that they are having a heart attack. Many working women trying to juggle personal, family and work life, often tend to neglect their health and their symptoms.
Since the start of COVID-19, many people have been struggling with serious health issues related to their hearts. The main concern is that the COVID-19 infection and the increase in lifestyle diseases brought on due to the pandemic have accelerated the process of atherosclerosis and thrombosis - the process of formation of cholesterol deposits and blood clots especially in the arteries supplying blood to the heart. The most common symptom is discomfort or pain in the centre of the chest which may radiate to one or both arms. However, women have fewer common presentations without chest discomfort like
a) Nausea, vomiting, heartburn, indigestion
b) Lightheadedness or giddiness, shortness of breath and pain in the back, neck, jaw, throat and one or both arms
Menopause and heart-related issues?
Women in general are at a higher risk of heart issues as they get older. Heart health and hormonal changes are closely linked in women. As one approaches menopause, the level of estrogen in your body declines and the loss of protective effect of estrogen makes the woman more susceptible to heart attacks around and after menopause, particularly in those with risk factors of diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol (especially LDL or the bad cholesterol).
'Use heart for every heart' is this year's theme of World Heart Day to help your loved ones and friends avoid a heart attack by being aware of one’s body, keeping a close eye on their stress levels and at the same time advocating others to eat right and exercise regularly.
Follow these tips
Always know your numbers – your blood sugar levels, your blood cholesterol levels, your blood pressure levels. If you can lower your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index, you may be able to lower your risk of a heart attack.
Some tips for women:
» Exercise regularly – at least 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity each week eg walking, cycling, swimming
» Limit or avoid trans-fat in foods and beverages
» Avoid smoking and limit your alcohol intake
» Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein
» Take medications as prescribed
» Have a healthy weight
» Manage your stress levels
» Get routine medical checkups and always know your magic numbers of blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol and take necessary lifestyle modifications and medication to control them
(Dr Teffy Jose is Senior Specialist, Interventional Cardiology, Aster Medcity, Kochi)