A study published in the medical journal JAMA Cardiology in January shows interesting new information about women and heart health.

The study tracked nearly 33,000 people between the ages of 5 and 98 for more than 40 years. Researchers saw sharper increases in blood pressure measurements for women starting in their 20s and increasing as they aged. Essentially the study pinpoints a concern that, starting as early as young adulthood, women experience a steeper rise in blood pressure than men.

What does that mean?

Because men and women have different biology and physiology, their risk for cardiovascular disease is different. For example, a 35-year-old woman with high blood pressure is likely at higher risk for cardiovascular disease than a man with high blood pressure at the same age. It’s also important to note that the signs of heart problems and/or a heart attack can be more subtle in women.

The classic symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting

Outside of the common symptoms, there are many other atypical symptoms of heart issues including:

  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Pain or pressure in lower chest or abdomen
  • Fainting
  • Upper indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Chest pressure or squeezing pain

It is important to note that women are more likely to present with much more subtle symptoms than men; being aware of the common and uncommon symptoms can be key.

What is the takeaway for women?

Get your blood pressure checked often. Know the signs of a heart attack. Also, consider lifestyle changes to positively impact heart health. For example:

  • Stop smoking. Smoking raises blood pressure which increases risk of stroke and or a heart attack.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. Both can lower blood pressure and improve overall heart health.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit alcohol. Maintain a healthy diet while being mindful of added sugar and high amounts of salt. If having more than one drink a day, its time to cut back.
  • Manage stress. Stress can cause arteries to tighten, which can increase the risk of heart disease, particularly coronary microvascular disease.

Don’t forget to consider heredity when talking to a doctor about heart health. And, remember knowledge is power when it comes to the heart.