Women: Take note of heart attack risk factors and symptoms

Women, Have a Heart

February is American Heart Month. Ladies, to celebrate the occasion, make healthy life choices and pay close attention to heart attack risk factors and symptoms.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

Several traditional risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, family history and age, affect both women and men, but some risk factors play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. These include: diabetes, smoking, menopause, pregnancy complications, birth control, inactivity, mental stress and depression.

“In addition, hormonal changes during menopause can negatively impact these major risk factors by lowering good cholesterol, increasing insulin resistance and increasing weight gain.” says Kelly Epps, MD, interventional cardiologist at Inova Fairfax Medical Center.

(Need a cardiologist? Make an appointment with Dr. Epps or one of her colleagues at Inova Medical Group Cardiology, with offices located throughout Northern Virginia.)

Heart Attack Symptoms

We normally consider chest pain a heart attack symptom, but some women may not experience it at all. Common heart attack symptoms in women aside from chest pain include: neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort; shortness of breath; pain in one or both arms; nausea or vomiting; sweating; lightheadedness or dizziness; and unusual fatigue.

Because women experience more atypical or subtle heart attack symptoms than men, many already have heart damage by the time they show up to the emergency room. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do not downplay them or hesitate to call for emergency help.

Lowering Risk for Heart Disease

According to Dr. Epps, controlling risk factors can lead to an 80 percent reduction in heart disease. Women can be their own best health advocates, starting with everyday decisions about diet and exercise.

“For patients with a strong family history of heart disease or patients who have been diagnosed with risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, I advise seeking guidance from a primary care provider or cardiologist to come up with an individualized treatment plan, as some risk factors may require medication in addition to lifestyle changes.”

What’s Your Heart Age?

If you would like to assess your risk of heart disease, take our free online Heart Risk Assessment.

Primary Care and Heart Doctors in Northern Virginia

In an emergency or suspected emergency, always call 911.


  1. Jeannine on June 2, 2018 at 2:28 am

    How can we make an appointment for the next day, or later, online?

    The website says there’s an app, but I can’t find it. Thanks.

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