Heart disease often presents differently in women.
Every minute in the United States, someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister dies from heart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease. More than one in three women is living with cardiovascular disease, including nearly half of all African-American women and 34 percent of Caucasian women. Although heart disease death rates among men have declined steadily over the last 25 years, rates among women have fallen at a slower rate. I’m often asked many questions about heart disease in women, which I will answer in this blog.
To start, here are the statistics:
- Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined.
- Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.
- Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease.
- The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women and men, and are often misunderstood.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is a broad term used to describe a range of diseases that affect your heart and blood vessels. Examples of heart disease include angina (chest pain), high blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, heart attacks and stroke.
In general, what are some of the risk factors for heart disease?
- Family history significant for heart disease
- Poor nutrition
- Physical activity
- High blood pressure
- High levels of stress
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Advancing age
What are the heart disease risk factors for women?
- Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
- Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s.
- Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels.
Why is heart disease different for women versus men?
The symptoms of heart disease are different for women. Men will typically experience crushing sub-sternal chest pain, which is classically described in the textbooks, accompanied by shortness of breath. Whereas women will often experience fatigue, vague abdominal pain and nausea as presenting symptoms of heart disease. Talk about disarming! Do you know how many women are tired or experience fatigue? It’s not exactly a symptom that has women running to their doctor’s office. On that note, when women do present for medical care with the aforementioned symptoms, often they are misdiagnosed. An EKG sometimes isn’t done when addressing symptoms of fatigue and abdominal pain. So women are more likely to be discharged from an ER without having a cardiac workup performed.
What’s one single thing that can be done to start protecting the heart today?
The most important thing is to know your blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure is correctable and most of all, it’s preventable. However, high blood pressure is a ‘silent killer’. You won’t know that you have this condition unless you check for it.