Heart disease is more than a serious health issue, it is the number-one cause of death in both women and men: roughly 600,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year. But because women have longer life expectancy than men, they constitute a larger proportion of the elderly population in which the likelihood of cardiovascular disease is greatest.
For the past three decades, there have been significant declines in heart disease mortality for both men and women, especially in the older population. However, recent data suggests a lack of improvement in heart disease rates in women age 55 and younger. Read on to find out more about heart disease and heart attacks in women, and build your awareness of gender differences in diagnosis treatment.
Although both men and women get heart attacks that are caused by obstruction of the heart arteries by plaque and clots, the way these clots develop differs. Women tend to have plaque erosion, which means small pieces of plaque break off and become exposed. This causes the formation of smaller clots, which may not cause complete blockage (or “occlusion”) at once. (This explains the more subtle symptoms than for men.) In addition, women tend to experience heart attacks approximately 10 years later than men, when they are more fragile and likely to have other health issues.
Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women
Compared to men, women with heart attacks tend to report symptoms such as chest pressure, heaviness or fullness, and sweating less frequently.
One of the reasons women typically have heart attacks later than men is due to the decrease in estrogen that accompanies menopause. The cause of heart attacks and the warning symptoms that lead patients to seek immediate medical attention are different in women and men, too. Women who do not recognize these differences may experience delayed and inappropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease Specific to Women
There are risk factors exclusive to women, such as pregnancy-related complications and hormonal factors. Other conditions tied to the development of heart disease, including depression, anxiety, autoimmune diseases (lupus and rheumatoid arthritis), and migraines, are significantly more frequent in women.
Although heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the U.S., risk factors including obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol continue to rise in young women. Being aware of female-specific risks and the symptoms of heart disease factors can help women prevent and recognize heart attacks. Women need to not only be aware of treatment options after a heart attack, but also become assertive about asking their doctor about those treatments and referrals. Read the full article here