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4 months ago
Women and Heart Disease: Understanding Risks, Symptoms, and Prevention

Overview

Heart disease is often seen as a man’s disease. Do you know that heart disease is also the number one killer of women? Cardiovascular disease claims more lives than breast cancer, and an estimated one in three women will die from some form of heart disease.

What are the most common types of heart disease in women?

Heart disease is an umbrella term that includes many different conditions. Common conditions that affect women include:

  1. Coronary Artery Disease
  2. Arrhythmia
  3. Diseases of the heart valves
  4. Microvascular disease
  5. Cardiomyopathy and Congestive Heart Failure
  6. Congenital Heart Defects
  7. Broken Heart Syndrome

What are the symptoms of heart disease in women?

Symptoms of heart disease are similar in both men and women. These include:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • New feeling of chest discomfort or shortness of breath on exertion
  • Palpitations

Women may also have symptoms that are not as obvious or typical. They can experience nausea without the chest discomfort, back, neck, or jaw pain instead of chest pain, or simply just feel tired. These are called atypical symptoms. Being aware of these atypical symptoms is crucial for prompt medical attention. Women are also likely to downplay or dismiss their discomfort, and less likely to see a doctor. This can result in delay in diagnosis and treatment.

What are the risk factors for heart disease in women?

Some risk factors are non-modifiable; They cannot be controlled. However, many others can be reduced with diet, exercise, medication (if needed), and a healthy lifestyle. Common risk factors include:

  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Psychosocial stress (ie anxiety, depression)

How is heart disease in women diagnosed?

Women who are concerned about their heart health can schedule a visit with Cardiac Care Partners. On the first visit, a detailed consultation will be performed regarding their medical history, diet and exercise habits, and any symptom they may be experiencing. Common cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels will be screened for. If heart disease is suspected, further evaluation of the heart may include:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • Stress Evaluation
  • Echocardiography
  • Computerized tomography (CT) angiogram of the coronary arteries
  • Coronary angiography

Our goal is to give women a diagnosis, or a confirmation of good heart health, as soon as possible. Regular check-ups, understanding risk factors, and recognizing symptoms can lead to early intervention and better outcomes.

What are the treatment options for heart disease in women?

Treatment options differ according to the condition diagnosed. Here are some common recommendations:

  • Lifestyle changes:
Adhering to a heart-healthy diet (such as a Mediterranean diet), starting a regular exercise routine, and quitting smoking are great ways to improve heart health and prevent future problems. Women at risk for heart disease should limit salt, fat and sugar intake. Excessive alcohol consumption should be avoided. For women, small amounts of alcohol may help keep the heart healthy, but more than one drink a day, seems to be detrimental to health.
  • Medications:
If cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol is present, medications can be prescribed to manage them and reduce a woman’s risk for further complications. A woman with or at risk for dangerous blood clots may also be prescribed daily blood thinning medications.

  • Interventional or surgical procedures:
If a patient has a blockage in her arteries, she may require a medical procedure to manage the condition. For instance, interventional cardiologists can use tools to open up blocked arteries. Cardiothoracic surgeons can construct bypass routes for blood to flow around the blockages.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation:
Cardiac rehabilitation includes regular meetings with cardiologists, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, and other health professionals. The goal of these meetings is to help individualise therapies for patients to strengthen and heal their hearts, and develop healthy habits for the rest of their lives.