Heart Disease Protection Women

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, and each year more women are killed by heart disease than men (American Heart Association, 2010). But for a variety of reasons, heart disease in women has often been misdiagnosed or improperly medicated.

Heart disease statistics suggest that symptoms of heart disease in women and men tend to differ. Some studies also show a gender difference in age-related risk factors. Frequent misinterpretation of symptoms and misunderstanding of risk categories may explain some of the gender imbalance in heart disease treatment.

Women’s Heart Health: Risk Factors

Some risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, affect both genders equally. But the following factors increase the risk of heart disease in women:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Depression and stress
  • Reduced levels of estrogen after menopause.

Post-menopausal women experience increased levels of cardiovascular disease, especially problems related to the smaller blood vessels supplying the heart, not just the primary coronary arteries.

Women’s Heart Health: Symptoms

Heart disease symptoms sometimes vary between genders, specifically heart attack symptoms. Heart diseases of several types can result in a heart attack. Coronary artery disease, for example, affects both women and men. The symptoms of a heart attack, though, may differ according to gender.

While heart attacks are often, and falsely, identified only by a “crushing” sensation in the chest, women who suffer a heart attack may experience pain in the shoulder, jaw, neck or abdomen, and they may feel increased fatigue and anxiety in the days leading up to the attack.

Because heart attacks have often been incorrectly associated with men, women’s symptoms are frequently misdiagnosed, misunderstood or left untreated. This damaging myth exists for several reasons, including skewed heart disease statistics resulting from older studies conducted only on men. Current heart disease statistics are beginning to present a more accurate picture, largely due to the efforts of women’s heart health advocates.

For a more in-depth look at this topic, review our article heart attack symptoms specific to women. If you experience the symptoms of a heart attack, seek immediate medical care.

Women’s Heart Health: Treatment

Some symptoms of heart disease can be treated either with medication or with surgery. In many cases, women appear to respond better to medication than men do. Thrombolytic drugs, also called clot-breaking or dissolving drugs, appear to be more effective for women, and aspirin therapy appears to work better in women for the prevention of strokes.

This may suggest that daily aspirin can effectively reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes for women. But before beginning an aspirin regimen, you should talk to a doctor because aspirin can also increase bleeding risk.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Women, heart disease, and stroke. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4786

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Heart disease in women: Understanding symptoms and risk factors. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/HB00040/NSECTIONGROUP=2

Medline Plus. (2010). Heart disease in women. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartdiseaseinwomen.html