and Heart Disease
years, women have been living with a myth
- heart disease is a man’s disease.
The truth is that every 20 seconds; someone in the United States
has a heart attack. Due to
tremendous medical advances in the past decade, fewer people are dying
from heart attacks. However,
they account for one-third of all deaths in women, and they are the
leading cause of death in women over age 50, more than cancer and
of the most important things women can do to combat this disease is
lipid management”, according to Dr. Lakshmi Mizin, a cardiologist at
Marian Community Hospital. “Several
new major studies indicate that low levels of high density cholesterol,
the “good cholesterol” is a strong independent indicator predictor
of cardiovascular disease in women.
I encourage women to learn about cholesterol, learn their
complete levels, not just an overall number.
Even with a total cholesterol level that is normal, women are at
higher risk for this disease if their HDL is low or if their low density
cholesterol level is very high.”
“The heart pumps blood through blood vessels to distribute
oxygen used by tissues throughout the body,” explains Dr. Mizin.
“The arteries that supply blood to the heart itself are called
the coronary arteries. If these arteries become clogged over time with plaques from arteriosclerosis, this is called coronary artery disease or “heart
disease”. If the arteries
become suddenly clogged or blocked from a blood clot that cuts off all
or most of the oxygen to a part of the heart muscle, a heart attack may
The classic symptoms of heart attack are crushing chest pain,
which may extend to the shoulder, to the jaw, or down the arm; shortness
of breath; sweating; nausea and/or vomiting; dizziness; rapid or
irregular pulse; and weakness. These
symptoms are often brought on by physical exertion (a classic example is
shoveling snow) or sudden emotional stress.
While this is true in many cases, many heart attacks are
“mild” and some are even “silent” with few if any symptoms.
Mild or moderate heart attacks may present with more subtle
symptoms and many patients, especially women, may have what are
considered “atypical” symptoms, such as burning across the upper
abdomen or mid-chest. “Chest
pain is the most important symptom of heart disease in women,” relates
the cardiologist. Many
women do not get evaluated for their chest pain early enough because
they feel that it ‘couldn’t be’ from their heart.
Women often self-medicate for indigestion or attribute their
symptoms to stress, anxiety, or minor injuries long before consulting
their physician about the true origin of the chest pain.
Women also more commonly experience other cardiac symptoms than
do men: women may complain of fatigue; difficulty breathing or shortness
of breath; back, shoulder, arm or abdominal pain.
These are not generally recognized as potential symptoms of heart
disease or heart attack, thus further delaying proper medical evaluation
There are numerous gender differences in heart disease and heart
attack. For men and women
with similar risk profiles, medical evidence of heart disease usually
occurs about 10 years later in women.
Heart attacks generally occur as much as 20 years later in women
than men. Perhaps because
of this age difference, women who have a heart attack are more likely to
die than men as a result. A
recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine show there is even
greater differences among gender mortality rates than previously
believed. This is
especially relevant because most women at risk for heart disease don’t
know it, have not discussed it with their doctor and have not been
properly or completely evaluated or treated yet women are much more
likely to die from a heart attack than men.
Once women are diagnosed with heart disease, the prognosis does
not improve as well as men with similar risks.
Because women usually get their diagnosis later, often when the
disease is far more advanced than in men, they do not fair as well with
the various medical procedures for heart disease.
These increased risks underscore the greater need for preventive
measures in women than in men as well as the increased need for early
diagnosis and treatment.
“All women should be screened for total cholesterol and HDL
abnormalities,” stressed Dr. Mizin.
“While heart disease usually strikes women at a later age,
watching indicators like cholesterol from an earlier age gives the time
to take preventive measures.”
Dr. Mizin advises women to learn their risk factors, discuss them
with their physician and review what they can do to decrease the chances
of heart disease. According
to the American Heart Association, half of all heart attacks are linked
to known risk factors that can be reduced or eliminated.
The bad news is that most Americans do not control these risk
factors. Of the nine major
risk factors, only age and family history can not be modified.
Age for men, age and menopausal/hormone replacement therapy
status for women; Family history; Smoking; Elevated Cholesterol;
especially LDL and triglycerides; Blood Pressure; Blood sugar; Exercise;
Being overweight and stress.
important list of questions for every women to ask her doctor.
© 2001 Marian Community Hospital, Carbondale, PA. All
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