Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in women – yet it is one of the most preventable conditions. Knowing this, it is essential to be aware of your risk factors and warning signs of a heart attack.
Heart Disease in Women
A woman’s heart may look like a man’s, but there are significant differences that go beyond the surface.
An estimated 300,000 women die every year from heart-related illness. Despite its alarming numbers, still many women are unaware of the threat. A recent study shows that about 4.8% of Australian women are at risk for heart disease.
There are misconceptions about the risk of cardiovascular disease to women. Many think that women have a lesser chance of having it. However, data found otherwise. Studies found that the prevalence of heart illness increase in midlife (35 to 54 years) in women while declining in men within the same age range.
Why Heart Disease Highly Associated with Women Than Men
Here are a few explanations why women are at risk of having a heart-related illness over men.
- Women have existing risk factors that men do not have
Certain diseases only affect women, which increases the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). These include endometriosis, polycystic ovary diseases (PCOS), diabetes, and high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of heart attack.
- CAD in women is often hard to diagnose.
In women, coronary artery disease only affects small artery disease, which cannot be seen clearly on angiogram or X-ray imaging. Most women are often given the all-clear signal after an x-ray exam and still experience symptoms right after. It is best to see a cardiologist who specialises in heart disease in women.
- Heart attack symptoms can be different in women.
Men often describe chest pain as a crushing weight on the chest during a heart attack. Women may also experience chest pain, but they are more likely to show it differently. Warning signs for heart attack include fatigue, shortness of breathing, sweating, and pain in specific body regions.
These symptoms are subtle and can occur three to four weeks before a heart attack.
- A heart attack is harder on women than men.
Most women tend to not do as well as men after a heart attack. Women require a more extended recovery period in the hospital, and there are high fatality rates during the hospital stay.
Preventing Heart Disease
Risk factors for heart disease may vary for each person. Genetics, biological factors, general health, and lifestyle risks are the most common risk factors.
While you cannot eliminate all risks, there are steps you can take to reduce them. These include:
- Measure blood pressure regularly. If the reading is high, work with your doctor to find ways to lower it.
- Quit smoking. It may be difficult for current smokers, but your doctor can help create a smoking cessation plan that works for you.
- Watch out for diabetes risk factors. Know your medical family history and get your blood sugar tested regularly. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar level under control.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat healthily. Your food choices should include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
- Limit alcohol intake to the recommended amount.
- Manage stress at an average level.
Heart disease is much more common in women than many of us realise. Symptoms may be subtler and hard to determine, which is why you need to be aware of the warning signs.
Take a first aid course to know how to recognise signs of heart attack and learn how to provide first aid if the situation requires it.