"Heart attacks are most common in women 10 years post-menopause," says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg , M.D., medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "However, approximately 30,000 women under the age of 50 suffer from heart disease."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent statistics, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women over 35, accounting for one in every four deaths. And it's common for symptoms of heart disease to go unnoticed or to be dismissed, especially among younger women, says Goldberg. Here are a few you should look out for:
That extra-large burrito may not be the only reason you're feeling super bloated. While leg bloating can result from all kinds of things, it can also be caused by a heart valve problem. A build up of fluids (a.k.a. edema) is a common symptom of congestive heart failure, when your heart is unable to process blood in and out at the proper rate, says Goldberg.
Before you freak out, know that this type of swelling, in contrast to run-of-the-mill bloating , will get worse with time and/or begin creeping further up your body. So if the swelling reaches that point of severity, you know it's time to call a doctor.
RELATED: The Surprising Reason Most People Get Cancer
Before you pop a Tylenol and shrug off that head pain, know that severe headaches can be symptomatic of a stroke or blood clot, too, says Goldenberg. While a headache alone isn't necessarily indicative of a heart issue, if you're experiencing it along with other symptoms like stiffness in your neck, fatigue, or dizziness, or it comes on suddenly, you could be in danger of an aneurysm and should seek medical attention.
We asked a hot doc how to treat a headache without meds. Here is what he said:
This might be the hardest sign to decipher because there are a million reasons you might feel tired-lack of sleep , stress , etc. But here we're talking an abnormal level of fatigue. "If you're relatively fit and all of a sudden start feeling winded climbing a flight of stairs, there's a problem," says Goldberg. Another sign: If you're feeling a level of weakness that you'd previously only experienced when sick with the flu. In this case, your heart may be struggling to oxygenate your body.
While this symptom is easy to dismiss, particularly for women who refuse to slow down, it should be a red flag if you're experiencing it along with any other strange symptoms.
RELATED: Are Your Periods Irregular? You Could Have This Syndrome and Not Even Know It
Many people assume heart pain is felt directly in the chest, or in the left arm, says Goldberg. But what some don't realize is that the pain can radiate elsewhere in the body, too. "It's not uncommon that I see people complaining of stomach pain , when really the issue is their heart," she says.
When you're feeling those sharp stomach cramps, it's possible that your heart is radiating pain signals to your stomach. Although this could also indicate the flu or heartburn , Goldberg says if it's something you've never felt before, go to a doctor just to be sure.
Fainting is the result of a drop in blood pressure , and that can be brought on by a number of things from changes in posture (think: that rush to the head you get when you get out of bed too fast) to which medications you're taking. But it could also be indicative of a more serious issue. A valve disorder that doesn't allow proper blood flow, a too slow or too fast heartbeat, or an aortic tear could all be the cause for fainting, says Goldberg.
If you faint in an isolated incident, it probably isn't cause for concern. On the other hand, you should consider seeing a doctor if you're fainting persistently or have fainted and are experiencing additional symptoms.
RELATED: The Right Way to Get Rid of Earwax
Like many of these symptoms, occasional dizziness is not a cause for concern. That light-headed feeling could result from standing up too quickly, dehydration , etc. But if the dizziness persists, that's when it's time to see a doctor. If the problem is your heart, it's likely due to artery blockages or valve issues messing with your blood pressure, says Goldberg.
Again, a heart attack isn't always felt in the heart. Often patients say a heart attack feels like there's an elephant sitting on their chest ; but that elephant could also be on your upper back , says Goldberg. If you're feeling an overwhelming amount of pressure on your upper back, that could be a sign of a heart attack.