Women & Heart Disease

The #1 cause of death in women is heart disease. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women alike. Here are the top risk factors:

  1. Smoking – [please quit]
  2. Diabetes
  3. Metabolic syndrome (a combination of high triglycerides, high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar)
  4. Family history
  5. Obesity
  6. High levels of certain inflammatory markers

Women also have risk factors for heart disease that are less often shared by men, notably:

  1. Autoimmune disease
  2. Inflammatory conditions
  3. Hormone imbalances
  4. Hypertension during menopause
  5. Stress and depression
  6. Low risk factor awareness

What do I mean by “low risk factor awareness”?  Well, women’s symptoms often do not include the classic presentation of sharp or crushing chest pain, with radiation to the jaw and down the arm. Rather, women frequently report nausea, vomiting, indigestion, back pain, fatigue or shortness of breath. Because their symptoms may seem non-threatening, women don’t always seek intervention quickly.

Moreover, these symptoms can be vague enough that healthcare providers fail to consider the situation urgently. Women also tend to visit their primary care doctors at rates much higher than men do.  Because they often report the same symptoms for less harmful reasons (such as reflux, the flu, muscle strain, or even depression), it can be very difficult to diagnose heart disease in women who don’t already have a history of heart disease.

The other unique feature for women is simply one of anatomy. Women’s arteries are generally smaller than those of men, so a much smaller clot can completely block essential blood flow to the heart, brain, or lungs. Smaller arteries also mean that the placement of arterial stents and cardiac bypass surgery are more challenging and less successful.

Ladies, I encourage you to make your health a priority.  Listen to that inner voice and, if you feel something is off or that your primary care physician is not properly addressing your concerns, seek out another doc.  If you’re not sure where to begin, feel free to visit us in Highland Park.