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Protecting your heart health: Advice for women

February 10, 2021 | Heart Health

Dani Aylsworth in a strong stance smiling at the camera

Dani Aylsworth didn’t worry much about her heart health. “I was in the Army for six years,” she says. “I’m a mom. I've always been super active, super healthy, no issues.”

But in 2017, after a bout of pneumonia went septic and doctors put her into a medically induced coma, she developed heart failure. “I woke up with 8% of my heart working,” she says. “From there, my whole life turned upside down.” Doctors recommended a heart transplant.

Dani is hardly alone; more than one in three women live with some form of cardiovascular disease.

In February, American Heart Month, the American Heart Association calls on women to spread awareness that cardiovascular disease is a woman’s number one killer, and to join the Go Red for Women movement.

“Given our local presence and how many women we interact with regularly in our stores, we wanted to play a role in addressing this chronic disease,” says Eileen Howard Boone, SVP of Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy. “CVS Health became a national presenting sponsor of Go Red for Women in 2017 and we’ve raised $18 million – and a lot of awareness – for women’s heart health.”

Heart disease symptoms for women differ from men’s, says preventive cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D. “Women do have chest pain, but often they have shortness of breath, back pain, nausea, vomiting. Even flu-like symptoms can be a sign of heart disease.”

That subtlety presents a problem. “When a woman doesn't even know she's at risk and then she doesn't even think her symptoms are her heart, she doesn't get help.”

Research also shows that women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic: losing more jobs (with women’s jobs found to be 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis) and taking on more caregiving and schooling responsibilities.

That creates stress — the worst thing for heart health.

Black women find themselves at even greater risk, with studies indicating they are at a higher risk of stroke, 47% higher than white women.

Fortunately, 80% of the time heart disease is preventable. But that figure requires paying attention to your lifestyle and managing risk factors.

Through healthy eating and exercise, Dani brought her heart function up to 39% and no longer needs a heart transplant.

“As a heart disease survivor, I want women to make changes that will support their health,” Dani says. “Be fierce, be brave. You can do this.”

Heart attacks: women's symptoms are different from men's

What to watch out for:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or pain in the chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
  • Cold sweats, nausea, vomiting or lightheadedness