10 Facts Every Women Must Know About Heart Disease

Anthony Navone, MD
Marcus Daly Cardiology Services
A service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital
1200 Westwood Drive
Hamilton, MT 59840
(406) 375-4665


10 facts every women must know about heart disease
Most of us know that February is American Heart Month. As Valentine's Day approaches, we all pay more attention to the amazing muscle inside our chest that beats over 90,000 times a day, every day of our lives. However, most people do not realize that heart disease still kills more women every year in the United States than the top six causes of death combined. The following are TEN facts about heart disease that every women needs to know.

1. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States.
Women's age-adjusted mortality rates from heart disease are four to six times higher than their mortality rates from breast cancer. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, heart disease is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. Every 80 seconds a woman dies from heart disease or stroke. Surprisingly, heart disease kills more women than men annually.

2. Women don't usually display "classic" heart attack symptoms.
The warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack for women are not the same as men. Because the symptoms are unusual, women tend not to seek medical attention and are less likely to call 911 when experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.

These are some of the symptoms that women should be concerned may be her heart telling her that it is in trouble.

bulletNeck, jaw, throat, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort

bulletShortness of breath

bulletPain in one or both arms

bulletNausea and vomiting

bulletSweating or diaphoresis

bulletLightheadedness or dizziness

bulletUnusual fatigue

The symptoms can be more subtle than the obvious crusting chest pain often associated with heart attacks. Women may describe chest pain as pressure or a tightness. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart. This condition is called small vessel disease or microvascular heart disease.

3. Mental stress can trigger heart disease.
Women today are under more stress than ever. Stress has increased 18% for women and 24% for men from 1983 to 2009, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. Modern women have so many more responsibilities, people to look after, lives to run, and schedules to keep. Some doctors feel that well over half of their patient visits are due to stress. It is not uncommon for mental stress to trigger heart attack symptoms in women. When we are stressed out, our body releases adrenaline, which causes increase heart rate and blood pressure. The hormone cortisol is also released causing higher levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Stress also leads to increased inflammation which is an important factor in developing heart disease.

4. Heart disease affects women of all ages.
Of the 435,000 American women who suffer heart attacks annually, 83,000 are under the age of 65 and 35,000 are under the age of 55. For younger woman, the combination of birth control pills and smoking heart disease risk by 20%. And while the risks do increase with age, things like overeating and a sedentary lifestyle can cause plaque to accumulate in lead to clogged arteries earlier in life.

5. Women develop advanced heart disease about 10 years later than men.
On average, women experience symptoms of heart disease almost 10 years later than their male counterparts. Men are more commonly to experience heart attacks and strokes between 50 and 60 years of age. The average age for women's heart attack is usually late 60s and early 70s. The most common explanation for this is the decline in estrogen levels after menopause. In addition, as we age, we are more prone to other risk factors including hypertension and high cholesterol. Unfortunately, the rapid rise and obesity and the conditions that accompany it, hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol, or leaving to earlier presentation of serious heart disease in both men and women.

6. Women delay medical care.
One study found that women, particularly those over 65 years of age, are more likely to delay getting medical help and management. A tendency to delay medical care is a factor leading to more serious heart attack outcomes for women. Another study found that most women delay seeking medical care for time periods that ranged from 15 minutes to almost 2 weeks after symptoms started. Reasons for delaying medical care include lack of awareness. Most women are in denial that they could have heart disease, and don't realize that 1 in 4 women will die of heart disease. If you suspect that you are having a heart attack, the best thing to do is get to the hospital quickly, preferably by ambulance.

7. African American and Hispanic women have a high risk of heart disease.
African American and Hispanic women have two times the risk of stroke compared to white women. The same group of women are more likely to die at a younger age. Nearly half of African American women over the age of 20 have cardiovascular disease. Lastly, Hispanic women develop heart disease ten years younger than non-Hispanic women.

8. Hormone therapy does not reduce the risk of heart attack in women.
As mentioned above, the risk of heart disease increases after menopause suggesting that there are protective effects of estrogen. After a great deal of controversy and multiple studies, we now know that hormonal replacement therapy, or HRT, does NOT reduce the risk of heart disease in women. In, fact, the Women's Health Initiative study revealed the HRT may increase the risk of stroke.

9. Cardiac risk factors impact the likelihood of heart disease in women.
Hypertension DOUBLES the woman's risk for cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart failure up to 8 FOLD, depending on how well the diabetes is managed.

Heart disease risk increases significantly with high LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). It is no longer good enough to know you're "total cholesterol" number. Women need to know the breakdown of their cholesterol numbers. The goal is to keep the HDL high and the LDL low.

Smoking more than doubles a woman's risk for heart attack and stroke. Smoking increases blood pressure, causes plaque buildup in blood vessels, lowers the good cholesterol and may cause blood clots.

10. Prevention works.
Older women, especially those already diagnosed with heart disease, can take measures to reduce the risks for heart attacks and other heart problems. As much as 80% of heart disease is preventable by early diagnosis as well as the recognition and treatment of cardiovascular risk factors. Every women should schedule regular physical exam and visits with her health care provider.
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Optimally control diabetes and recognize relationship between heart disease and diabetes
  • Control your blood pressure with regular monitoring
  • Maintain a healthy and active lifestyle
  • Quit smoking, if you haven't already done so
  • Keep your bad cholesterol low in your good cholesterol high
  • Make your health and well-being your priority.
Don't become a victim of the number one killer of women. Know the facts and take control of your cardiovascular risk factors. Lastly, DO NOT DELAY seeking care if you feel you are having a heart problem!

February is American Heart Month, let's celebrate together! Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and the International Heart Institute of Montana have teamed up to provide you with the next class in the Healthcare Education Series about Heart Health. Join us Thursday, February 11, 2016 from 5:30pm to 6:30pmin the Blodgett and Canyon View conference rooms as Anthony Navone, MD, from Marcus Daly Cardiology Services, talks about the nation's leading cause of death, heart disease. He will explain how you can improve your heart health through prevention and treatment. Learn about the differences in men and women in the symptoms of heart attacks and other areas, and new strategies for combating heart disease. You will leave this session with advice on how to keep your heart well! Come a few minutes early to get your blood pressure checked and register to win a fabulous prize.

Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please contact, Anthony Navone, MD at Marcus Daly Cardiology Center, a service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!
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