Heart diseases are any condition that affects the structure and/or functioning of the heart. It includes common conditions like coronary artery diseases (CAD) and heart attacks (myocardial infarction) which are usually thought to be common in the male population but it is also quite common in women. Although the risk is somewhat lower before menopause, it rises gradually in women after menopause. By the age of 75 years the risk is equal to that of males of the same age group.
Facts About Heart Disease
In the US heart disease is considered to be one of the leading causes of death. In a 50 year old female the risk of suffering from heart disease is about 46% whereas the chance of death is about 31%. In comparison the risk of developing and dying from breast cancer is only about 10% and 3% respectively. Studies have shown that the death rate in women in the first year following a heart attack is far higher than among men who suffer a heart attack. In comparison to Caucasian women, African American women are at an increased risk of suffering from heart disease.
Despite all the above facts most women are not aware of the risk of suffering from a heart disease and the chances of death. Heart disease is still commonly thought of as being a significant killer among males. But this is untrue. As per the American Heart Association, in 2004 about 42.1 million women were reported to suffer from heart disease of which about 461,000 people died of heart diseases.
There are number of difficulties encountered especially during diagnosing a heart attack in women. These difficulties are primarily due to:
- Women delaying in seeking medical attention for symptoms in comparison to males.
- A greater chance of presenting with atypical symptoms of heart disease like pain in the neck or shoulder region, pain in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, increased tiredness, breathing problem in comparison to more common presenting symptoms of left sided chest pain and so on.
- The chance of suffering from silent heart attack (no symptoms) is particularly high in women in comparison to men.
- The diagnosis of a heart attack is also delayed in women because other causes of chest pain like esophageal spasms are more common in women and the ECG findings following heart attack in women are less likely to be typical.
- It is also seen that the incidence of angina in women in most of the cases occur due to sudden contraction (vasospasm) of the supplying blood vessels (coronary arteries) to the heart muscle rather than narrowing of the coronary arteries due to fat deposits (atherosclerosis). There a coronary angiogram which is most common test used to diagnose coronary artery disease may not be helpful in women and also there is increased chance of having a false positive or misleading test results in women.
Risk Factors In Women
Other than the common risk factors for heart disease like high cholesterol level, high blood pressure and obesity, there are some other factors which play more important role in increasing the risk of heart disease in women. These are suffering from metabolic syndrome consisting of presence of fat around the middle portion of the abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglyceride levels in the blood, mental stress especially depression, family history, smoking alone or along with the intake of birth control pills. The risk of suffering from a heart attack in younger women is lower because of the protection offered by estrogen. However, the risk is not negligible rather it is seen that about 16,000 deaths can be attributed to heart-related problems in women below 55 years of age.