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20 Facts About Heart Disease in Women

In this post, writer Dr Temitope Olayinka explores facts around heart disease in women - in and out of the hospital.

Woman lying on the floor resting her folded hands on a drawing of the heart in red.
Image credit - Dreamtime

What is Heart Disease?

It refers to conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels that supply the heart, muscles of the heart, valves, rhythm and the congenital (from birth) heart conditions1,2.  

Remember, heart diseases are also known as cardiovascular diseases.

They include a spectrum of ailments 1,2,3.

Among these are heart attacks, angina, vascular disease, heart rhythm problems, high or low blood pressure etc1,2.

We have evidence to indicate that heart disease is detected more frequently in men.

But, it is equally important to know about heart disease in women.


About Women and Heart Disease

Below are some things everyone should know about the subject:

  • Heart disease is common in women.

  • Globally, it is the number one cause of death in women.

  • Women are not immune to cardiovascular disease.

  • And, many women don’t know they have heart problems until it is too late.


Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

  • Heart conditions in women can present differently from the typical presentations.

  • So, in a heart attack where usual symptoms can include left-sided chest pain, women are more likely to have symptoms unrelated to chest pain.

  • And, women are likely to complain of milder symptoms even if the disease is severe.

  • Women may complain of symptoms such as mild discomfort in the back, neck, breast or jaw without complaining of chest pain during a heart attack.

  • Abnormalities of the heart in women affect smaller vessels rather than large vessels, which is more common in men.

  • Heart disease symptoms in women can be interpreted as something else at the hospital. Common examples are anxiety or panic attacks.

  • By the time many women show up in the emergency room for problems related to heart disease, the damage has already been done.


Other Health Problems Linked to Cardiovascular Disease

  • Emotional stress can cause heart disease.

  • Obesity leads to many heart problems.

  • In some women, certain contraceptive or birth control drugs can affect the heart, and lead to severe manifestations of heart disease.
    • An example is high blood pressure (hypertension) in some women using combined oral contraceptives.

  • Women may need to have (comparatively) more physical exercise than men to reduce their risk of the disease.

  • Women who smoke are at an increased risk of damage to the heart.

  • Post-menopausal women are at a higher risk of developing heart problems than women who have not undergone menopause.
    • This relates to the loss of Oestrogen as women grow older. Oestrogen protects the heart and blood vessels by its positive effect on the inner lining of the vessels.

  • Women who have had the womb removed (hysterectomy) and had the ovaries taken out at the same time (oophorectomy) have an increased risk of developing heart disease.
    • This also relates to the loss of Oestrogen after the ovaries are removed.

  • Sudden death can be a presentation of heart disease in both young and older women.


Did any of these facts surprise you? If you have any experiences of heart disease or observations for how women rate heart disease, please share them in the comments section below.

Learn more about this topic:

References:

  1. American Heart Association, 2017. What is Heart disease. [online] Available at https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease [ Accessed 27 April 2019]
  2. Mayoclinic.org, 2018. Heart Disease. [online] Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353118 [Accessed 30 April 2019]
  3. World Health Organization, 2019. Cardiovascular Diseases. [online] Available at https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds) [Accessed 2 Jun 2019]
  4. ClevelandClinic.org, 2019. Women and Cardiovascular Diseases. [online] Available at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17645-women--cardiovascular-disease [Accessed 1 Jun 2019]
  5. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019. Women and Heart Disease. [online] Available at https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm [Accessed 1 Jun. 2019]
  6. Garcia, M., Mulvagh, S., Bairey Merz, C., Buring, J. and Manson, J. (2016). Cardiovascular Disease in Women. Circulation Research, 118(8), pp.1273-1293. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4834856/  [Accessed 27 April 2019].
  7. Wenger, N. (2002). Clinical characteristics of coronary heart disease in women: emphasis on gender differences. Cardiovascular Research, [online] 53(3), pp.558-567. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/cardiovascres/article/53/3/558/325378  [Accessed 5 Jun. 2019].
  8. Keteepe-Arachi, T. and Sharma, S. (2017). Cardiovascular Disease in Women: Understanding Symptoms and Risk Factors. European Cardiology Review, [online] 12(1), p.10. Available at: https://www.ecrjournal.com/articles/Cardiovascular-Disease-Women [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].

Edited by AskAwayHealth Team

Disclaimer

All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practicing Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through info@askawayhealth.org



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