Did you know that 1 in 4 women die of heart disease? Though heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, over the last 25 years or so there has been in a decline in the number of heart related deaths in males, however, the number of heart related deaths in females has had little change. According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease kills more women than any other type of disease including breast cancer.
For starters, what exactly is a heart disease? Although there are many types of heart disease, it mainly refers to Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) which is the type that can lead to a heart attack. A heart attack is caused by the heart muscle not receiving enough oxygen to be able to pump properly. This is caused by a blockage (usually a blood clot) in the coronary arteries which are the blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. Although most people view a heart attack as sudden event, coronary artery disease develops over a long period of time. Over time cholesterol, fat, and other substances build up in the walls of the coronary arteries causing plaque to form which makes the blood vessels hard and narrow. If the plaque breaks it can cause a blood clot to form which will then obstruct blood from getting to the heart muscle. The part of the heart muscle fed by the blocked artery will begin to weaken and eventually die if blood flow is not restored. The reason why some heart attacks are fatal and some are not is because it depends on where the blockage or blockages are and what parts of the heart muscle is being affected.
One of the factors that contributes to the high rate of heart related deaths in women is that a woman’s symptoms of a heart attack can be much different that those of a man. According to the American Heart Association, the symptoms that a woman may experience during a heart attack are: Chest pain or pressure that may come and go, pain in one or both arms, jaw, neck, or stomach pain that can mimic indigestion, shortness of breath, breaking in to a cold sweat, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms. Needless to say, some of these symptoms are very general and may not trigger one to realize that they are having a heart attack.
Another factor in the high number of women with heart disease is that heart disease has had a stigma of being a “man’s disease.” Most of the initial research done on heart disease was focused on men. It was not until the 1980’s that heart disease research began to focus on women. We all know that men and women are very different in many ways and therefore women can present differently with heart disease.
Although the statistics can seem grim, there are plenty of things that woman can do to reduce there risk. Maintaining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the first line of defense. Being proactive with your health is key. This means knowing your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. If they are not within normal limits, work with your doctor to improve them. If you have a history in your family of someone having heart disease before the age of 55, this may put you at a greater risk for heart disease. Talking to your doctor about your risk factors and how you can prevent heart disease is a great start to minimizing your risk for heart disease.
Below are some helpful websites and videos that provide information on women’s heart disease.
- Go Red for Women Presents “Just a Little Heart Attack” with Elizabeth Banks.
- Noel Merz:The single biggest health threat women face
- American Heart Association
- CDC Leading Causes of Death in Females United States, 2007
- SeeMyHeart.org provides information on different heart diseases and how cardiac ultrasound can be used to detect them