…is important too. Women, take risks seriously.
It’s estimated that almost half of the women don’t realize that heart disease is the top cause of death in women – just as it is for men. For women, understanding heart-health risks can provide the knowledge and motivation to take seriously the medical steps and lifestyle changes that can greatly reduce this risk.
Large And Small
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a process in which the inner layer of arteries is damaged. Inflammation may be one of the factors that start the damage, and fatty deposits (plaques) tend to accumulate at the site over time. This process is called atherosclerosis. It can narrow arteries and reduce – or sometimes eventually block – blood flow.
CAD can set the stage for eventual heart attack, heart failure or potentially deadly heart rhythm problems. Atherosclerosis can also occur in other arteries, such as those that supply the brain with blood, increasing the risk of stroke. As the name suggests, coronary artery disease occurs in the arteries that supply the heart with blood. Traditionally, CAD has been assumed to affect only the larger arteries that supply blood to the heart. Indeed, women and men most commonly experience CAD in the largest heart arteries. But there’s another way CAD can occur that’s more common in women than in men. It’s called coronary microvascular disease, and it involves clogging and narrowing – or improper function – of the heart’s tiniest blood vessels. If your doctor suspects CAD but large vessel diagnostic testing shows clear arteries, additional diagnostic testing may be performed to detect coronary micro vasuclar disease.
Chest pain, pressure or tightness is the most common symptom of heart attack in men and women. Women are more likely than men to have nontypical heart attack signs and symptoms that don’t include chest pain, but may include symptoms such as: Neck, shoulder, jaw or abdominal discomfort Shortness of breath Unusual weakness or fatigue Lightheadedness or dizziness Sweating Nausea or vomiting A heart attack occurs suddenly, but symptoms may have been present prior to the acute event, occurring hours, days or weeks before the heart attack. Women sometimes fail to seek immediate evaluation of heart attack symptoms. Suspected reasons for this include the sometimesnon typical symptoms, a general lack of awareness of heart attack risk, and a reluctance to be a bother or to sound a false alarm.
In women, smoking – when particularly combined with oral contraceptive use – appears to increase risk of CAD by about 25%.
Familiar Risks – With A Twist
Compared with men of a similar age, premenopausal women have less than half the risk of developing heart disease. However, this gap in risk begins to rapidly narrow after menopause for reasons that may be partially – but not fully – explained by reductions in estrogen after menopause. The primary causes of artery damage that starts and sustains the development of CAD are well-known. However, these risk factors can affect women in different ways than they affect men. Primary risk factors include: Smoking – In women, smoking – when particularly combined with oral contraceptive use – appears to increase risk of CAD by about 25% over the already high risk of CAD that male smokers experience. It also appears that women also have a greater degree of risk at less cigarette use compared with men. High blood pressure (hypertension) – There’s a higher prevalence of high blood pressure in women older than 60 than in men older than 60. In addition, blood pressure is often less well-controlled in women than in men. Undesirable cholesterol levels – Younger women tend to have healthier cholesterol levels than do younger men, but after menopause, unhealthy cholesterol levels in women rise to higher levels than in older men. Diabetes – Compared with men with diabetes, women with diabetes have heart attacks that occur sooner over the course of the disease and are more deadly. Women with diabetes are also at greater risk of heart failure and stroke than are men with diabetes. Obesity – Some research indicates that the risk of CAD in obese women is higher than in obese men, with fat that’s stored in the belly being a more potent risk factor than fat located on the hips, thighs and buttocks. Lack of physical activity – Women are often less active than are men.
Several additional risk factors are more common – or occur exclusively – in women, including: Reproductive issues – Pregnancy issues that can predict increased risk of CAD
Chemotherapy drugs, and radiation performed very close to the heart, can increase CAD risk.
later in life include pre-term delivery, high blood pressure disorders such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or weight gain with pregnancy that doesn’t go away within a year after birth. Having polycystic ovary syndrome can also increase CAD risk. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis – These diseases, which are associated with higher levels of inflammation, raise CAD risk. Treatment of breast cancer – Chemotherapy drugs, and radiation performed very close to the heart, can increase CAD risk. Early menopause – CAD risk ramps up after menopause. If you have an early menopause, this ramp-up starts sooner than in women who experience menopause later. Depression – This is a risk factor for men and women of all ages, but depression is more common in women.
Take It Seriously
The list of risks above highlight two important points: Heart disease needs to be at the top of the health concern list for many women, and in particular older women. Take seriously the risks that you can control or modify. Don’t wait for signs of trouble. About 64% of women who die suddenly of heart disease have no previous symptoms. Rather, follow the main tracks for reducing risk, which include: Lifestyle changes – Focusing on the basics is key. Research has demonstrated that by not smoking, maintaining a fairly healthy body weight, consuming a healthy diet, drinking alcohol in moderation if at all, and getting regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart problems by greater than 80%. Working with your doctor – Medications or other therapies may be needed to help address risks, such as controlling diabetes, managing depression, or keeping your cholesterol or blood pressure at healthy levels. If you have confirmed CAD, these steps may be approached more aggressively and a cardiac rehabilitation plan may be adopted. Additional steps – such as surgery to improve blood flow to the heart – also may be considered.
Consuming a healthy diet, drinking alcohol in moderation if at all, and getting regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart problems.