Many women put too much pressure on themselves to make the holidays perfect for everyone. This can add a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety that can lead to serious heart problems.
Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center cardiologist Karla Kurrelmeyer, M.D. says in their quest to get everything done on time, some women will ignore the mild symptoms of a silent heart attack.
“Most of the time people who are experiencing a heart attack will have pain in the chest, shortness of breath, etc. Silent heart attack symptoms might be as simple as indigestion, flu-like symptoms, or feeling discomfort like a pulled muscle in the chest or back,” Kurrelmeyer said. “It’s important to have these symptoms checked as soon as possible to avoid scarring or damage to the heart.”
Kurrelmeyer says stress-induced cardiomyopathy is also a concern for women around the holidays. This occurs when women are under great amounts of stress for a short period of time and that stress is compounded with another traumatic event such as a death in the family, a car accident, loss of money, etc. If it is ignored it can be fatal.
“Stress-induced cardiomyopathy is a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber,” Kurrelmeyer said. “It is brought on by the release of stress hormones that shock the heart, causing changes in the heart muscles that then cause the left ventricle to not work properly. The vast majority of people who are affected by this condition are women in the late 50s to mid-70s.”
Someone experiencing this condition might develop chest pains or shortness of breath after severe stress, either emotional or physical, she said. In most cases, it is treated with medication such as beta blockers or ACE inhibitors. It’s important to have an echocardiogram as soon as possible if you are experiencing any symptoms.
A spike in blood pressure is also common during the holidays. Kurrelmeyer says many women end up in the ER with chest pains or palpitations and, in the most severe cases, can suffer a stroke. If a woman has a history of high blood pressure it’s important to monitor it closely, especially during those times when the stress level rises.
Heart problems in women are not usually as recognizable as they are in men. Some of the symptoms for women include:
• Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath.
• Discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, arm, below the breastbone or in the middle of the back.
• Sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness.
• Fullness, indigestion, a tightness in the throat area.
• Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
“It’s important to take time for yourself during the holiday season and do things that will help relieve your stress,” Kurrelmeyer said. “Exercise, either walking or running, yoga, meditation, a nice walk with a loved one, whatever it takes, make it happen. The holidays should be a joyous time spent with family and friends at home, not with doctors in an emergency room.”