My Aging Heart: Women and Heart Disease
April 12, 2022

Mary Turner felt super tired all weekend.

“I’d never been so tired in my life, and I’m 75,” she said. “After three days of fatigue, I knew something was wrong, so I visited my doctor. Turns out, I was having heart failure, even though I hadn’t had any symptoms of heart disease before. Had I waited one day more, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Mary is not alone. While everyone seems to know heart disease is the number one killer of men, only about half of women realize it is also the number one killer of women. For various reasons, women tend to have symptoms that differ from those of men, so it’s good to know what symptoms to look out for.

Heart Disease Symptoms

The signs of heart disease in women can be difficult to recognize, ranging from the classic “clutch your chest” type pain to no pain at all. Women are also more likely than men to have symptoms outside of chest pain and while resting. A few to watch for are:

Discomfort in the neck, jaw, or throat
Arm pain
Nausea and/or vomiting
Extreme fatigue
Lightheadedness or dizziness
Shortness of breath

Age is a Factor

The older you are, the higher the chance you will develop heart disease. While it is true taking care of yourself earlier can be even more beneficial to your heart health, there are many things you can do at any age that will lower your risk, even later in life.

There are certain risk factors you cannot control, like heredity, Type 1 diabetes, and menopause; however, the main risk factors—high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking—can be controlled. If you have one or more of these, you are not alone. Almost half of all people in the U.S. have at least one of those.

So what can you do? We consulted Dr. Mayda Antun, Chief Clinical Officer at CareMax, to understand best practices for your heart health.

Your Numbers Are Important – Keep a close eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight, as high numbers for any of those can lead to heart disease. Should any of those numbers be a concern, work closely with your physician on a program to address them.

Love the Couch? Get Moving – Regular physical activity helps mitigate all the preventable risk factors. Even a few minutes a day has its benefits. If the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise is too much for you, try 30 minutes of exercise three times a week. Give yourself small goals: walking around the block, marching in place while watching your favorite TV show, taking the stairs instead of an elevator. Any physical activity is better than none, and as always, make sure to talk with your physician before starting any exercise regimen.

Do You Smoke? Quit – The leading cause of preventable death is smoking, and the risk is even greater for women than men. No matter how long you’ve been a smoker, it’s never too late to stop. There are benefits to quitting at any age.

What Should You Eat? Moderation and Balance Are Key – It is very difficult to change habits overnight, especially when it comes to diet, but there are small changes you can make that can slowly lead to a better diet all around.

Limit sugar – Do you normally put two teaspoons of sugar in your coffee or tea? Try cutting it down to one. Do you eat dessert at every meal? Try limiting it to one meal every week.

Lower salt intake – High sodium intake is responsible for raising blood pressure, which is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. On average, Americans eat more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, when we should be getting no more than 2,300 mg/day. The ideal limit is less than half of the average, at 1,500 mg/day. If you find out you are consuming too much, try cutting down by 1,000 mg/day. Check the Nutrition Facts labels on all food products for sodium content. Canned and processed food are notorious for high sodium content, so make sure to limit your use or at least read the labels to ensure you know exactly how much you are getting. Use herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt.

Look for lower fat foods – You don’t have to cut out everything at once, but you can make better choices. Cut down on fried foods and red meat; opt for olive oil over butter and fish over steak.
Make sure to include vegetables and fruits in your daily diet – An apple a day may not completely keep the doctor away, but it’s still a good idea. A vegetable with every meal is also recommended, along with lean meats.

Watch Your Weight – Losing even a few pounds can help. Chances are if you step up your activity level, limit sugar, and choose healthy foods, some pounds will come off. Consult with your physician to find your healthiest weight.

Other Things You Can Do:

Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night
Do what you can to tone down your stress levels
Cut down (or cut out) alcohol intake

Bottom line – Heart disease is not an inevitable result of aging. By changing some bad habits and adding good ones, you can lower your risk. The providers at CareMax practice a value-based, whole person approach to healthcare, where every patient gets exactly the right care management program they need to prevent or control heart disease and other chronic conditions. If you’d like to schedule an appointment, please contact CareMax by calling (305) 425-9999.To learn more about personal heart care, read “Monitoring Your Heart Health at Home.”

Founded in 2011 in South Florida, CareMax is a network of value-based clinics primarily serving Medicare beneficiaries through high-touch enhanced services. Each CareMax center offers comprehensive care to its members by combining primary care, specialists, dental care, pain management, social services, health education, diagnostics, home health, and pharmacy under one roof with transportation for members to and from their appointments. Five-Star quality CareMax centers use a combination of best practices, technology, and social determinants to achieve better healthcare outcomes for senior members in the community. The results: 130% year-over-year growth, high-quality scores as evidenced by contracted health plans receiving a 5-Star quality rating awarded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A major expansion is now underway, beginning in Florida and continuing across the country.