Women’s hearts are different from those of men, and they fall ill in a different way, sometimes with too much discretion, with subtle and hazy symptoms: we learn to recognize them, in order not to underestimate them.


What are the cardiac symptoms in men and women?

In men, the symptoms of a heart attack are usually sensational: a stab, an unbearable pain, and a stone on the chest. In women there is often only a sense of weight, or discomfort on the chest, a pain in the back, or shoulder, or jaw, small shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, empty head, and tiredness that is different from usual: women lie down for a few minutes and think that the trouble will go, the same way it has come.


Why do these differences exist?

There are differences because the blood clots that cause heart attack (thrombi) in women are formed in the small and peripheral branches of the coronary arteries, not in the main branches, thus giving less sensational symptoms. Symptoms may also appear at rest, even during sleep, not only during an effort, during a period of prolonged stress due to serious personal or family concerns.


How do women react to the onset of symptoms?

Women do not have time to take care of themselves, they underestimate symptoms and often arrive at the emergency room too late, when the clots have already formed in the coronaries and become consolidated, and part of the heart muscle is dying from a lack of oxygen.


What are the enemies of women’s hearts?

The enemies of women’s hearts are the usual: too high cholesterol levels for too long, too high blood pressure, overweight and obesity. However, some factors are particularly aggressive for women’s hearts:


Diabetes, for example, increases the risk of heart attacks in women rather than men.

The waistline that easily becomes wider especially with the arrival of menopause,

The stress and depression that lead them to abandon themselves to a wrong and dangerous lifestyle and to forget about prescribed medicines

Smoking, which harms women more than men

Laziness, because women have less time for planned physical activity

The drop in estrogen that occurs in menopause

Pregnancy and its complications, such as hypertension or diabetes, which increase the risk in the mother but also in the fetus: all factors should not be underestimated, without fear, but with intelligence.


When to take care of your heart?

It is always important to take care of one’s own heart from an early age, especially if someone in the family (father, mother, sisters, brothers, grandparents) has had an early heart attack before the age of 65. The protection of the heart lies in lifestyle choices, a concept repeated to the point of boredom, so simple and intuitive as to be considered banal and therefore underestimated. Instead the heart is a serious thing, we must always think about its maintenance.


How to take care of your heart?

It is always a matter of style: stopping or not starting at all with smoking, organizing to do at least 40 minutes of aerobic physical activity three times a week, walking, or dancing, or pedaling, controlling and maintaining the weight, choosing foods poor in salt and saturated fats and cholesterol, taking regulated medications prescribed by your doctor, to lower the pressure, medications for diabetes, and anticoagulants to thin the blood.


Do I protect my heart if I’m active?

Walk fast, as if you were late for an appointment, dressed properly with suitable shoes, three times a week, for 40 consecutive minutes each time. Pedaling, or dancing is also recommended. Moreover, any physical activity is better than nothing; there is no excuse.

Even just fifteen minutes of physical activity, in this case intense, like a small run while walking, burns calories and makes the blood circulate better, as confirmed by scientific research. Using the stairs instead of the elevator, going to the office (if possible!) on foot or by bicycle instead of by car, pedaling on the bicycle while watching TV are all activities that you can do if you organize yourself.


The ideal weight, how to calculate it?

Everyone has their own ideal weight, roughly we can have an idea by calculating the body mass index with the BMI = Body Mass Index. The BMI is calculated as follows: weight in kg/height in square meters. An index of less than 25 marks the ideal weight, while a value of more than 25 suggests overweight/obesity.

Losing a few pounds reduces the likelihood of diabetes, which threatens the arteries of the heart and brain, increasing the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.


Does it make sense to measure your waistline?

Measuring your waistline makes a lot of sense. Those who have fat on their abdomen have more fat around their heart and a high risk of heart attack: a woman’s waistline should be less than 89cm (measure it with a soft seamstress’s meter).


Contribution signed by Dr. Lidia Rota, Head of the Cardiovascular Prevention Centre of Humanitas.