Women and Heart Disease

Women and Heart Disease

. 5 min read

So...we know men and women are very different, but did you know that women are different when it comes to Heart Disease?  Let's explore why.

Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a man’s disease, almost as many women as men die each year of heart disease in the United States.

Despite increases in awareness over the past decades, only about half (56%) of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer.

The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement is the trusted, passionate, relevant force for change to eradicate heart disease and stroke in women all over the world. Launched in 2004 as an awareness campaign, Go Red quickly grew into an international movement and has become a platform for real change, however the medical field has been talking about this since the early 1990s

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 314,186 women in 2020—or about1 in every 5 female deaths.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among American Indian and Alaska Native women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.

About 1 in 16 women age 20 and older (6.2%) have coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease including: white women (6.1%), black women (6.5%), Hispanic women (6%), and about 1 in 30 Asian women (3.2%).

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

Although some women have no symptoms, others may have

• Angina (dull and heavy or sharp chest pain or discomfort)

• Pain in the neck, jaw, or throat

• Pain in the upper abdomen or back

• Flu like symptoms

• Fatigue

These symptoms may happen when you are resting or when you are doing regular daily activities. Women also may have other symptoms, including nausea and vomiting.

*Women have less crushing chest pain than men

*Women often have symptoms at rest or when sleeping

*Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than are men with diabetes. Also, because diabetes can change the way women feel pain, there's an increased risk of having a silent heart attack — without symptoms.

Emotional stress and depressionaffect women's hearts more than men's. Depression may make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment for other health conditions.

Family history of early heart disease appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men.

Inflammatory diseases such asRheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory conditions may increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.

Women of all ages should take heart disease seriously. Women under age 65, especially those with a family history of heart disease, also need to pay close attention to heart disease risk factors.

Because women's heart attack symptoms can differ from men's, women might be diagnosed less often with heart disease than men. Women are more likely than men to have a heart attack with no severe blockage in an artery (nonobstructive coronary artery disease).

Estrogen, the hormone responsible for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system, has some interesting positive effects on the heart and blood vessels. Estrogen helps keep blood vessels flexible, which promotes good blood flow. It also helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and soaks up particles in the blood that can damage arteries and other tissues. However, as women mature, their estrogen levels decrease, especially during menopause. After menopause, blood pressure, iron levels and "bad" cholesterol (LDL) levels can increase, and cardiovascular disease risk follows suit. Similarly, the risk of heart disease increases for those with hormone disorders, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which are heart disease risks.

If you experienced pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia or gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you could be at increased risk for heart disease as these conditions can increase the occurrence of other heart disease risk factors. Women who have preeclampsia or hypertension during pregnancy are at a much higher risk of developing high blood pressure or suffering from a stroke as they age, and women who had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

While you may be aware of smoking's many harmful long-term implications, you may not be aware that the consequences for women can be much worse. In general, smoking causes blood to thicken, increasing the risk of blood clots and damage to blood vessel walls. Female smokers' risk of suffering a heart attack is twice that of men who light up. While it's unclear why women are affected more, the good news is that heart attack risk drops dramatically within the first year a person quits smoking.

It might seem like the deck is stacked against you when it comes to your heart's future, but in fact, you hold the trump card — knowledge. Knowing your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index can reveal a lot about the health of your heart and the risk factors you may be able to reduce by exercising regularly and eating a heart-healthy diet. If you smoke-quit!

Exercise and heart health

Regular activity helps keep the heart healthy. In general, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, on most days of the week. If that's more than you can do, start slowly and build up. Even five minutes a day of exercise has health benefits.

For a bigger health boost, aim for about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day, five days a week. Also do strength training exercises two or more days a week.

In general, heart disease treatment in women and in men is similar. It can include medications, angioplasty and stenting, or coronary bypass surgery.

Some noted differences in heart disease treatment among men and women are:

Women are less likely to be treated with aspirin and statins to prevent future heart attacks than are men. However, studies show the benefits are similar in both groups.

Women are less likely than men to have coronary bypass surgery, perhaps because women have less obstructive disease or smaller arteries with more small vessel disease.

Cardiac rehabilitation can improve health and aid recovery from heart disease, however, women are less likely to be referred for cardiac rehabilitation than men are.

Women have smaller hearts and blood vessels.
A woman's symptoms are often different from a man's, and she's much more likely than a man to die within a year of having a heart attack.
See your physician to understand your risk factors and complete a physical exam including blood work and EKG.

Take the risk calculator

Take charge of your health to protect your heart. You can change your risk with early detection, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, a healthy diet and managing existing conditions.

Here is to your good heart health,