Women are supposedly the epitome of strength and a pillar of support for the family. To live up this expectation, they keep juggling their personal and professional life. They become so tangled in the lives that they ignore the warning signs that their body starts giving them about their health.
Most of the women are not aware of the different cardiac issues that they can face because of this constant marathon in their life. Due to lack of awareness, they never worry about it, and neither thinks about the ways to protect the health of their heart. Moreover, women have a stiffer time than men in accessing what they need to do to stay healthy and productive.
Usually, females are concerned about breast cancer and focus on the ways to keep it at bay. It is vital for every single woman to know that heart disease, specifically coronary heart disease, is the number one killer among women in the US. Fatal cardiac events in women are more common that they appear to be and there is a scientific reason behind it.
Gender plays a significant role in the symptoms, treatment, and its outcomes in the case of coronary artery disease (CAD). Firstly, women have risk factors that men do not have. For example, polycystic ovarian disease, endometriosis, and pregnancy-related diabetes and hypertension are some of the risk factors for heart disease in women. According to Cleveland Clinic, endometriosis can increase the risk of CAD by as much as 400 percent.
This fact is an indicator of the fact that maintaining heart health should be at the top of every women’s health-related to-do list. These heart diseases don’t affect all women in the same way, and the warning signs of cardiac diseases in women are different from men.
Warning signs of heart disease in women versus men
Heart disease is a common serious health issue in both men and women but it doesn’t affect both the sexes in the same way. Women may have less obvious symptoms in comparison to men. In the case of women, heart-related issues can be confused with other issues such as indigestion or panic attack.
For example, chest pain is the most prominent and a major symptom of heart attack in males. However, in women, apart from mild chest pain, certain other subtle symptoms may occur. These include shortness of breath, sweating, dramatic or new fatigue, and pain in the back, neck, or jaw.
Women may experience pain in either arm, while in the case of men, pain is usually felt radiation from the heart to the left arm. Due to these subtle differences, it becomes all the more important for women to pay attention to any kind of symptoms and immediately call for medical attention if something appears to be unusual.
The following are some of the conditions that are either more common in women or more commonly contribute to heart disease when present in women.
“Broken -heart “syndrome
Stress and heart health in women have long been correlated. Broken-heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy, is a temporary and a mysterious heart condition with symptoms similar to a heart attack. A severe physical illness or surgery can trigger it, apart from emotional causes such as the death of a close family member. The symptoms of this condition may include the following:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid or irregular beat
Symptoms of broken heart syndrome are curable, and quick and timely treatment can lead to full recovery. This condition is more common in women when compared to men. The exact cause of this is uncertain but it is speculated that it could be due to hormonal differences or the ability to handle extreme stress.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure a silent killer as most of the people are not aware that they have this condition. It is not directly gender-related but is more common in women. This is because women-specific circumstances and reasons such as pregnancy, the use of contraceptive or birth control pills, and hormonal changes during menopause put them at an increased risk of developing issues related to blood pressure.
High blood pressure puts an excess strain on the cardiac muscles and damages the heart, which slowly results in narrowing of the coronary arteries (serving the heart). Narrowing of these arteries results from the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances that together are called plaque. The buildup of plaques in the arteries is known as atherosclerosis.
Damage caused by high blood pressure builds over time, and if left untreated, it causes scars and damage to the arteries, leading to hypertensive heart disease. This include thickening of the heart muscle, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and other conditions related to the heart.
Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD is a rare and an emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in the blood vessels present in the heart. In this condition, the blood flow to the heart gets slow or blocked completely resulting in abnormalities in heart rhythm, heart attack, or sudden death.
The exact pathological mechanism of SCAD is still not clear but it is mostly associated with conditions such as atherosclerosis, connective tissue disorder, and peripartum episode. SCAD is seen more commonly in women as compared to men and researchers have not been able to isolate a specific gender or hormonal explanation for the same as yet. This condition is even being diagnosed in women who are young and healthy with no cardiovascular risk.
Diabetes can be harder for women than men. A study published in the European Heart Journal in 2007 discovered that the association between diabetes and death by heart failure was much stronger for women as compared to men.
Diabetes in women is mostly due to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which mostly doubles the chances of heart disease. High blood sugar slows down the flow of oxygen in the blood which leads to plaque buildup in the arteries.
Other facts about heart disease in women
Some of the other actualities about heart diseases which a woman should be aware of are:
- Middle aged-women with depression are at a higher risk of heart disease.
- Women experiencing high blood pressure, preeclampsia, or gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at a higher risk of heart disease post-delivery.
- Sleep deprivation raises the level of cortisol and inflammatory cytokines, which promotes the development of heart disease in women.
- Menopausal women are at a greater risk of heart disease because of the fall in levels of estrogen, which provides protection again heart-related disorders.
- CAD is hard to identify in women because it affects smaller arteries in them, which are hard to see on an angiogram.
- A heart attack is much harder on a woman than a man. Thus, women are more likely to die, while men are more likely to survive a heart attack.
- Women are more likely to develop a blood clot after a heart attack as compared to men. This is the reason why they may suffer another heart attack within the first 12 months of the first one.
Thus, for women, it is equally important to be enlightened about the risk factor for heart disease and take necessary steps to keep it healthy!