It wasn’t too long ago that heart disease was viewed as a man’s problem. In fact, up until about 10 years ago virtually all studies on heart disease excluded women.
That has since changed as heart disease has grown to be the biggest killer of women in the U.S. Even with increased awareness, 80 percent of midlife women (ages 40 – 60) still have one or more risk factors for heart disease – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, and smoking.
Consider the following data:
- While heart disease is significantly lower for young women compared to men, women surpass men in risk once they reach menopause. Historically, women with such risk factors as high cholesterol or hypertension have not been treated as aggressively as their male counterparts. That practice is only recently beginning to change.
- Women often don’t show the classic symptoms of a heart attack. Many women, in fact, are asymptomatic, lacking such classic symptoms as chest pain; pain radiating to the shoulders, neck or arms; and shortness of breath. Instead women exhibit more vague behaviors, such as with flu-like symptoms or fatigue. As a result, women may ignore the symptoms and not seek care from a physician because they don’t perceive they are at risk.
- The link between diabetes and heart disease is even greater among women. Women have the same risk factors as men – hypertension, smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, and family history. Yet, diabetes is a higher risk factor for women than for men.
- Women do not respond as well to treatment. Studies show that women who have had bypass surgery or been treated medically have a higher incident of recurrent heart failure. That’s why it’s important for women to be knowledgeable of preventative care and continue to have a healthy heart.
Although women (and men) have no control over their family history, they can make meaningful lifestyle choices to stop smoking, start exercising, watch their diet, and keep their diabetes under control.