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Heart Disease & Women

Feb 14, 2024

Donyll Kiah, BA, CRT

Did you know in 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson declared February American Heart Month? Let us take some time to focus on an especially important topic, and what better time than this month to talk about the HEART!

Heart disease is still often perceived as a male-centric issue, but the reality is starkly different. Women are equally susceptible to heart disease, yet their symptoms, risk factors, and outcomes can differ significantly from men. In this month’s blog, we shed light on the under-recognized phenomenon of heart disease in women, exploring its unique challenges, risk factors, and preventive measures.

Heart disease encompasses a range of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart failure. Conditions which contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, run in families. Knowing, and sharing, your family medical history is essential. Document who and how old they were when they were diagnosed and share this information with your physician. Despite advances in medical science, it remains the leading cause of death for women worldwide, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

Challenges in Diagnosis:

One of the most significant challenges in addressing heart disease in women is the lack of awareness and atypical symptoms. Unlike men, women may not always experience the classic chest pain during a heart attack. Instead, they may have symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, indigestion, nausea, jaw, or back pain, which are often overlooked or attributed to other causes.

Unique Risk Factors:

While traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking apply to both genders, women face additional risk factors unique to their biology. These include age of first period, hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, early menopause, hormone replacement therapy and conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can influence cardiovascular health.

Socioeconomic and Cultural Factors:

Socioeconomic status and cultural beliefs also play a significant role in women’s heart health. Limited access to healthcare, disparities in treatment, and cultural norms that prioritize caregiving over self-care can contribute to delayed diagnosis and poorer outcomes for women with heart disease.

Preventive Strategies:

Empowering women with knowledge about their risk factors and symptoms is crucial for prevention and early intervention. Women need to know their blood pressure and have their cholesterol and triglycerides checked. Regular screenings, lifestyle modifications such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and managing stress are essential components of preventive care. Moreover, healthcare providers must recognize and address the unique needs of women in cardiovascular risk assessment and treatment.

Advocacy and Education:

Raising awareness about heart disease in women is paramount to drive policy changes, improve healthcare delivery, and promote research initiatives focused on gender-specific cardiovascular health. Only 56% of American women recognize that heart disease is the number 1 cause of death for women. Educational campaigns, support groups, and advocacy efforts can help dispel myths, reduce stigma, and encourage women to prioritize their heart health. Approximately 44% of women in the United States have some form of heart disease. In 2021, 310,661 women died from heart disease. That was 1 in 5 female deaths.

Heart disease does not discriminate based on gender, yet the challenges faced by women in its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention are often overlooked. By amplifying the voices of women, advocating for gender-specific research, and fostering a culture of proactive healthcare, we can work towards a future where heart disease no longer claims the lives of our mothers, daughters, and sisters prematurely. Together, let us strive to make heart health a priority for all women, because a healthier heart means a brighter future for generations to come.

American Heart Association – https://www.heart.org/

 

 

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