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Why Women Should Take More Care of Their Heart

Why Women Should Take More Care of Their Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women—and the number of those at risk continues to increase.

You’ve all heard the alarming statistics concerning women’s heart health and gender differences in treatment and survival: 90 percent of women in the US have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke and are more likely to die from a first heart attack than men. To top it off, when women do survive heart attacks and stroke, they have more complications.

As Holly Anderson, MD, Director of Education and Outreach for the Perelman Heart Institute, pointed out on The Doctor Oz Show, “Heart disease remains the number one cause of death for women—more than all cancers combined—and it is on the rise, especially in young women, ages 29 to 45.”

Why? And what can be done about it?
Women need to become aware of specific cardiovascular conditions they face and what to do when interacting with the doctor who provides their primary care, and if they land in the emergency department (ED).

Why are younger women having more heart woes?
The obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics are hitting pre-menopausal women hard, and they deliver a one-two punch for cardiovascular diseases. In the US, obesity rates are the highest among middle-age adults (41 percent for 40- to 59-year-olds) while type 2 diabetes affects around 11 million adult women under the age of 65.

Know this . . .
Starting at age 20, women should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years and their LDL and HDL cholesterol, triglyceride and blood sugar levels checked every four to six years. Women at higher risk due to age, weight, lifestyle habits and family history need to be checked more frequently.

Post-menopausal women should have an annual heart health check-up that includes levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, CRP (an inflammation marker) and blood pressure. If your doc doesn’t suggest it, insist.

The differences between men’s and women’s heart woes
Almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease experience no previous symptoms. If they do have symptoms, they may show up at an older age and be distinctly different than men’s. Also, women take longer to get medical help after the onset of a heart attack; are more apt to have other complicating health problems (in part because they’re older); respond differently to treatments; and are not given comparable treatments.

Clues you can use
A month before a heart attack, a woman may report being unusually fatigued (71 percent), shortness of breath (42 percent), indigestion (39 percent), anxiety (36 percent), a rapid heart rate (27 percent), arms feel weak or heavy (25 percent),and experiencing sleep disturbances (48 percent). That’s why Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a specialist in women’s heart health from Columbia University in New York, says, “It is my hope that women would go to the hospital more often for symptoms that MAY be heart related and demand from doctors that they not be overlooked or told they are hysterical.”

What doctors can do to make sure you survive and thrive
A recent study says if a woman goes to the ED for a heart attack, her chances of survival are substantially better if a female doctor works on her. So the Harvard Business School researchers who did the study recommend women ask for a female doc in those circumstances. But you may not be able to ask or there may be no female cardiologists available, so clearly that’s not a good answer to the problem.

According to a Cleveland Clinic study, when docs follow a four-step protocol for the most severe type of heart attack, it eliminates or reduces gender disparities in care and outcomes typically seen in this type of event. Women should talk with their primary care doc and cardiologist (if under care of one) about their awareness of the gender discrepancies in diagnosis, treatment and outcomes and find out which hospitals in the area are known to practice gender-neutral protocols in their EDs.

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