HEART HEALTH: learn your heart at­tack risk fac­tors


Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - AWW

Our radar is al­ways on in gen­eral prac­tice for “red flag symp­toms”. Some of these are ob­vi­ous, like bleed­ing, jaun­dice or par­tic­u­lar types of pain. Some are more sub­tle hints of un­der­ly­ing se­ri­ous dis­eases that may not be im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous, but can be cat­a­strophic if they are over­looked.

In re­cent years there has been a re­newed focus on the aware­ness of heart dis­ease in women. This is be­cause one in three women doesn’t demon­strate the “typ­i­cal” symp­toms of heart dis­ease that have tra­di­tion­ally been ap­plied to men. The symp­toms ex­pe­ri­enced by women are of­ten vague and non-spe­cific, so they may not trig­ger a visit to the doc­tor or emergency depart­ment. Rather than the clas­sic grip­ping left-sided chest pain we usu­ally as­so­ci­ate with a need to rush to hospi­tal with sus­pected heart at­tack, women might ex­pe­ri­ence neck or jaw tight­ness, dizzi­ness, vom­it­ing, fa­tigue, sweat­ing, pal­pi­ta­tions and short­ness of breath. Any chest pain may be de­scribed as a tight­ness or pres­sure.

The re­sult of a de­lay in di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment is that 40 per cent of heart at­tacks in women are fa­tal, and ev­ery day, eight women lose their lives to heart dis­ease in New Zealand. Symp­toms are even more likely to be ig­nored or dis­missed by younger women who do not be­lieve they could be at risk.

Ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor Bob Graham of the Vic­tor Chang Car­diac Re­search In­sti­tute at Sydney’s St Vin­cent’s Hospi­tal, “We are also see­ing an in­creas­ing trend of young, pre­menopausal women ex­pe­ri­enc­ing heart at­tacks. There are quite an alarm­ing num­ber of young fe­males who smoke, are over­weight and have other risk fac­tors that sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease their risk of de­vel­op­ing heart dis­ease. It’s ex­tremely im­por­tant that women are aware of their risk fac­tors and talk to their doc­tor.”

Women’s heart at­tack symp­toms may ac­tu­ally oc­cur more of­ten when they are asleep or rest­ing, and can even be trig­gered by stress.

I of­ten find fe­male pa­tients get quite a shock when they find out they have hy­per­ten­sion, and then we need to have a de­tailed con­ver­sa­tion about how to re­duce their over­all risk, in­clud­ing med­i­ca­tions and chang­ing some habits like poor diet or lack of ac­tiv­ity.

What is your risk?

It is es­sen­tial to un­der­stand your risk fac­tors for heart dis­ease be­cause they can de­ter­mine the like­li­hood of you hav­ing a heart at­tack. Many of the risks can be mon­i­tored and mod­i­fied.

Hy­per­ten­sion (high blood pres­sure), the most sig­nif­i­cant risk fac­tor for heart dis­ease, is two to three times more com­mon in women than in men and be­comes more com­mon with age. It has been es­ti­mated that more than half of women over 55 have hy­per­ten­sion and many do not know their blood pres­sure is high.

Obe­sity and phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity in­crease the risk of di­a­betes, and di­a­betes in­creases the risk of heart at­tack by three to seven times in women, com­pared with two to three times in men. Other risk fac­tors to be aware of in­clude:

l High cholesterol

l Stress and de­pres­sion l Smok­ing

l In­ac­tiv­ity

l Menopause

l Preg­nancy com­pli­ca­tions

Your GP can ar­range in­ves­ti­ga­tions to as­sess your risk of heart dis­ease and may ar­range car­diac test­ing such as ex­er­cise stress test­ing or a CT scan to mea­sure the state of plaque in your coro­nary ar­ter­ies.

Women have dif­fer­ent heart at­tack symp­toms to men so it’s im­por­tant to know your risk fac­tors, says Pro­fes­sor Ker­ryn Phelps.

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