Your heart is a vital muscle that pumps blood throughout your entire body, providing it with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function.
When the walls of your arteries and blood vessels become clogged with fatty materials, your heart must work harder to push blood through your body, which can cause hypertension and increase your risk for heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
Heart disease can happen at any age; however, increasing rates of obesity and high blood pressure put younger adults (age 35-64) at a higher risk of heart disease.
In this blog, we share early warning signs of heart disease to watch for and common symptoms, causes, and risk factors. We’ll also share why women have a higher overall risk, prevention and treatment methods, and the Ulta Lab Tests you need to understand your heart health.
What Are the Early Signs of Heart Disease?
Early signs of heart disease can be easily ignored or shrugged off as something else. But it’s important to understand these “pre-heart attack” symptoms, to get the help you need before a heart attack or stroke damages your heart. These early warning signs can appear in the days, weeks, or even months leading up to a heart attack:
- Unusual tiredness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Occasional passing chest pain or tightness
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs
- Overall fluid retention
What Are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?
Other, more urgent symptoms of heart can include:
- Chest pain or discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes
- Feeling of impending doom
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the arm, neck, jaw, or upper back
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath that does not subside with rest
- Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg
- Sweaty or clammy skin
What Are the Common Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
Here are some of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure
- Poor nutrition
- Lack of physical activity
It is important to note that being a woman is also a risk factor for heart disease. In fact, it is the leading cause of female death in the United States.
Why? Women have naturally smaller arteries than men, making them 20% more likely to develop heart disease, experience heart failure, or die within five years of their first severe heart attack. Low levels of estrogen in post-menopausal women also contribute to an increased risk of developing heart disease in the smaller blood vessels.
On average, women struggling with heart disease are older than men and have a more complicated medical history. Early detection is critical.
What Are the Different Types of Heart Disease That Affect Women?
The most common types of heart disease in women include the following:
An improper beating of the heart (e.g., irregular, too fast, or too slow)
A disease of the heart muscle that makes it more difficult to pump blood throughout the body.
- Congenital heart defects
Any abnormality in the heart that develops before birth.
- Congestive heart failure
A chronic condition in which the heart does not pump blood as efficiently as it should.
- Coronary artery disease
Any damage or disease in the heart’s major blood vessels.
- Diseases of the heart valves
Any damage, stiffening, or hardening in and around the aortic valve.
- Microvascular disease
A disruption of blood flow through the heart’s smallest blood vessels.
How Can I Reduce My Risk for Heart Disease?
Your heart health is central to your overall health. Protecting your heart by supporting healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels is essential.
These healthy heart guidelines can also help reduce feelings of depression and lower your risk of developing dementia:
- Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about proper medication to help keep it within a normal range. You can also support healthy blood pressure by maintaining healthy body weight through diet and exercise.
- Limit alcohol consumption
Excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk for diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure.On days you choose to drink, men should consume no more than two alcoholic beverages, and women should consume no more than one.
- Fill your plate with color
Reach for plenty of leafy green vegetables, colorful fruits, whole grains, lean meats, and fish, and avoid foods high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt.
- Move your body every day
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week (e.g., walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming). This will help you maintain a healthy body weight and lower your risk for hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
- Get regular check-ups with your doctor or cardiologist
Your doctor can help you assess your risk, recommend lifestyle changes, or prescribe the medications you need to manage your heart health properly.
- Find ways to lower stress
Try meditation, journaling, yoga, or breathing techniques to lower stress levels and reduce your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Stop smoking
Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure are the leading causes of heart disease and stroke.
How Is a Heart Disease Treated?
Treatments for heart disease vary widely and can include lifestyle changes, medications, surgery, stents, pacemakers, and ablation (a procedure used to break up plaque inside blood vessels).
With proper treatment, symptoms of heart disease can be reduced, and heart function can be improved.
Which Tests Can Help Determine My Risk for Heart Disease?
If you’d like to know more or learn how to improve your heart health, choose one or more of the physician-approved heart & cardiovascular lab tests from Ulta Lab Tests listed below. Our tests are convenient, affordable, and always confidential.
Once you have your test results, schedule an appointment with your doctor to learn how to protect or improve your heart health.
Quest Diagnostics conducts all tests. Results are typically available within 1-2 business days.
Doctor's orders are never required.