Happy heart disease awareness month! Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women? Although rates of cardiovascular disease overall are lower than those in men, it is important for women to know the risk factors and common signs/symptoms as these often are different than the typical male presentation.
So, who is considered more at risk for heart disease and complications from it? Here are some of the greatest risk factors of heart disease in women:
Family history of heart disease
Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and/or kidney disease
Although many of these risk factors are similar to those of males, certain factors are specifically unique to women. A common example of a female-specific risk factor is the use of hormonal birth control in those that are already at high risk. Any female that is over the age of 35 and who has one of the risk factors mentioned above should not be on combination birth control. Menopause and other alterations in estrogen levels are also contributing factors unique to women that increase the risk. Other female related conditions, such as polycystic ovary disease and endometriosis, also increase causes for concern and should not be overlooked. In pregnant females with history of heart disease or that present the risk factors noted above also have higher rates of pregnancy loss and pre-term birth.
So, what are some additional signs of heart disease and how do they differ from men? Chest pain is overall the most common symptom for both sexes. However, research has found that women who were having an actual heart attack were less likely to complain of chest tightness, pressure or pain than men. Instead, women were more likely to complain of “atypical” symptoms associated with heart disease. These include nausea, new onset or extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness. As a result, women are more likely to have delayed care or are inappropriately sent home from the hospital when compared to men. It has also been found that women are typically undermanaged after a new heart disease diagnosis.
Now that you know the risks, how do you protect yourself? Be aware of your risks and signs/symptoms of heart disease. Quit using tobacco, practice healthy diet habits and exercise on a regular basis. And don’t forget to follow up with your health care providers! Getting early and appropriate monitoring and/or treatment can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease - early prevention is key!