This World Heart Day, let's pledge to stay hale and hearty by knowing more about heart diseases and how to avoid them.

All that a woman needs to know about heart diseases

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and wellness spotlight may have moved away from most other dreaded ailments. However, they are still very much around, hiding in plain sight. Take cardiovascular diseases, for instance. It is a group of heart-related ailments that account for nearly one-third of all deaths in the world. Every year, these lead to a loss of 17.0 million lives globally.

Heart-related diseases include blood vessel disorders, cerebrovascular problems, rheumatic heart ailments etc. Heart attacks and strokes, the most prominent manifestation of these disorders, claim four out of five cardiovascular deaths. A Harvard study noted that while heart attacks tend to occur earlier among men, it is women who fare worse when it comes to the consequences. 

Most heart-related disorders have clear symptoms leading up to a full-blown ailment. The specific habits, lifestyle choices, and physiological factors causing these diseases are known to medical science. Therefore, both the identification and prevention of heart diseases are within our capabilities. 

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Some common heart problems

  • Congestive heart failure is simply the heart’s failure to pump or relax as per the requirement of the body.
  • Valvular heart disease happens when there is damage to one of the heart’s four valves. 
  • Coronary artery disease, also known as atherosclerotic heart disease, causes narrowing of arteries due to plaque build-up within.
  • Peripheral artery disease occurs due to fat and calcium deposits in the blood vessels in the limbs.
  • Congenital heart disease is an abnormality or defect with the structure of the heart that develops before birth and is sometimes aggravated over time.
  • Heart arrhythmia is when the heartbeat is either too fast or too slow, caused due to erratic electric impulses in the heart.

Symptoms and conditions attributed to heart diseases

Heart attack, heart failure, cardiac arrest, stroke, and aneurysm are some of the common risks attached to heart diseases. There is no denying that most heart-related conditions sound rather grave. However, you can prevent and even cure these ailments by addressing them when the early symptoms show up. 

Heart disease symptoms that are common among women include the following:

  • Angina or pain/discomfort in the chest; it can be sharp or dull.
  • Pain felt in the upper back, neck, jaw, throat, or upper abdomen.
  • General weakness and fatigue, sweating, nausea, and shortness of breath.
  • Many women have also noticed changes in their skin tone.
  • Sudden weight gain can be a symptom, as can swelling of lower limbs.
  • Sleep troubles, palpitations, anxiety, light-headedness, and heartburn.
  • Indigestion, coughing/wheezing, and even fainting are linked to heart diseases.
  • The risk of heart disease increases in those who already have problems such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic stress, depression, inflammatory diseases, HIV, and a family history of heart disease. Smoking, lack of physical exercise, and being overweight also increase the risk. Women who had high blood pressure or gestational diabetes and those undergoing menopause or premature menopause too are at higher risk.

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Preventing and detecting heart diseases

Now that you know about the various heart ailments, their symptoms, and the conditions/habits leading to them, let’s look at some ways to avoid them.

  • Monitoring blood pressure regularly and make lifestyle changes to lower it.
  • Monitor and control blood sugar, particularly if you have a family history of diabetes.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight and BMI.
  • Monitor and control cholesterol levels.
  • Address and control all stress-related issues.
  • Seek medical help to address sleeping disorders or apnea.
  • Make an effort to quit smoking and the use of other tobacco products.
  • Maintain good food habits; include a balanced and healthy diet.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption or keep it within the recommended limit.
  • Ensure regular physical activity.

Your doctor is best placed to advise you on the tests and investigations to be taken to detect heart disorders. Some of these investigations are:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress tests
  • Carotid arteries ultrasound
  • Ankle-brachial index
  • Coronary CTA
  • Test of inflammation levels
  • Sodium and potassium levels 
  • Blood cell count
  • Kidney, liver, thyroid function, and other specialised lipid tests
  • Cardiac catheterisation
  • Implantable loop recorder

Related: Genes and health: All the health problems you can inherit from your mother

You can take heart from the fact that with sufficient knowledge of these heart-related diseases and the risks they pose, you are better equipped to spot the symptoms. This World Heart Day, learn how you can take proper care of yourself and avail of medical assistance to prevent them if necessary. Look at these 7 Women-specific health conditions that your insurance needs to cover.