Heart Of The Matter

By now, everyone knows the little pink ribbon that stands for the campaign against breast cancer. Now we have a color for heart disease, and heart foundations are spreading the word through a campaign entitled "Go Red for Women." The major aim of this campaign is to dispel the myth that only men are at risk for heart attacks.

Female-Specific Risks

Women everywhere need to know that they too, are vulnerable to heart disease. The foundations hope to teach women about the female-specific risk factors, signs, and symptoms of heart disease.

The most common symptoms of heart disease in women include the following:

* Chest pain that comes and goes, may be sensed as intermittent discomfort or pressure

* Pain that hits specific locations such as the arm, shoulder, jaw, back, or stomach

* Shortness of breath without discomfort

* Nausea

* Fainting

Significant Rise

Before menopause, a woman's risk for cardiovascular disease is not as high as that of a man. However, there is a significant rise in a woman's risk for heart disease after menopause. It's important to note that the risk of heart disease in pre-menopausal women is rising all the time.

Female risk factors for heart disease include:

* Age—a woman's risk for heart disease increases with her age. The risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women rises due to the decline of estrogen, which has a protective effect on the heart. 

* Family history—if your parents were struck by cardiovascular disease at a young age, your risk for developing early heart disease rises, too.

* Past history of heart disease or stroke—if you've suffered from stroke or heart disease in the past, your likelihood for future occurrences remains high.

* Women who smoke—the risk for heart disease in women who smoke is higher than in men who smoke. Women who smoke raise their risk for heart attack 2-4 times higher than men.

* Inactivity—women who lead sedentary lives and don't engage in regular exercise have a doubled risk for heart disease. Exercise can help control high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and blood cholesterol. All of these conditions are known risk factors that can lead to the development of heart disease.

* Diabetes—diabetes raises a woman's risk for both heart attacks and stroke. Diabetes doubles a woman's risk for heart attack.

* Cholesterol—elevated levels of total cholesterol, low levels of HDL (the good kind of cholesterol), and high levels of triglycerides should all be taken as signs of a heart attack in the making. The ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol (HDL/LDL) is thought to be a crucial factor in calculating a woman's risk for heart disease.

* Hypertension—high blood pressure raises the risk for stroke.

* Obesity—carrying extra pounds around the waist and midsection increase the strain on your heart and can also raise your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.