As women, I believe our hearts get a real workout. We feel with our hearts. We lead with our hearts. We make decisions with our hearts. We love fiercely with our hearts. When our hearts get broken, we put walls around our hearts to protect them. But, how do we physically protect our hearts?

Heart Disease is the number one killer of women. We must do more to protect this vital organ that is the center of our world. This is near and dear to my heart. You see, I have heart disease on both sides of my family, and genetically that makes me a higher risk. However, this doesn’t have to be my story. So, what do we do about this? Well, first we need to know the signs. Did you know that the signs of heart attack may be different for women than men? While chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, women can have symptoms that aren’t related to chest pain at all. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these are symptoms we should watch for, including information about how to tell if they are benign or cause for concern:

1. Unusual Fatigue
Like many women, you’re probably busy most of the time. You may take care of a family, run a household, work outside the home and care for aging parents. You are probably also tired a lot of the time. Most likely this is normal. But you should pay attention to fatigue if it is new or dramatic. Here’s what to watch out for:
  • You are suddenly worn out after your typical exercise routine.

  • You aren’t exerting yourself, but have fatigue or a “heavy” chest.

  • Simple activity like making the bed, walking to the bathroom or shopping makes you excessively tired.

  • Although you feel exceptionally tired, you also experience sleep disturbance.

2. Sweating and/or Shortness of Breath
As women age, a lack of exercise and gradual weight gain cause issues like shortness of breath. Hot flashes are a common complaint for many women during menopause.
But these symptoms can signal a heart problem when they happen in certain situations:
  • Sudden sweating or shortness of breath without exertion.

  • Breathlessness that continues to worsen over time after exertion.

  • Shortness of breath that worsens when lying down and improves when propping up.

  • “Stress” sweat (cold, clammy feeling) when there is no real cause for stress.

  • Sweating or shortness of breath accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain or fatigue.

3. Neck, jaw, back pain
As intricate as our body’s systems are, they are very adept at giving signals when there is something wrong. When there is a problem with the heart, it triggers nerves in that area, but you sometimes feel pain elsewhere. Pain in the jaw, back or arms may signal a heart condition, especially if the origin is hard to pinpoint (for example there is no specific muscle or joint that aches). Also, if the discomfort begins or worsens when you are exerting yourself, and then stops when you quit exercising, you should get it checked out.
Here are some other signs to look out for:
  • Women, in particular, can have pain in either arm — not just the left one like many men.

  • Pain in the lower or upper back often starts in the chest and spreads to these areas.

  • The pain is sometimes sudden, not due to physical exertion, and can wake you up at night.

  • You may feel pain that is specific to the left, lower side of the jaw.

If you notice any of these symptoms please see your doctor to determine if it is related to your heart.
When to call 9-1-1
Get help right away if you have chest pain or discomfort along with any of these symptoms, especially if they last longer than five minutes:
  • Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Sweating or “cold sweat”

  • Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Light-headedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety

  • Rapid or irregular heart beats

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