The Female Risk Factor - Cardiology

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“They say that men have heart attacks more than women. They say that now, at least they are diagnosed more than women.”

Heart disease is often thought of as a man’s problem, rather than a woman’s. But if you are female, you may be at a higher risk for heart disease than you think.

“I was very amazed to find out that the heart was the number one killer for women. I did a tally actually. I was calling up my girlfriends and women I’d worked with over the years and said, ‘What do you think the number one killer of women is?’ And they all said, ‘Breast cancer.’”

Women are twice as likely to die from heart disease, than from all forms of cancer combined, including breast cancer. And if you are an African American woman with heart disease, you need to be especially careful.

Studies have shown that African American women with heart disease are two times more likely to have a heart attack than White women. They are also twice as likely to die from heart disease. Heart disease is also a major cause of death for Hispanic and Native Americans.

Women tend to develop heart disease later in life than men. This is because throughout your life, hormones including the female hormone estrogen, have been protecting your heart.

But at about age 55, as you are going through menopause, the level of estrogen drops and processes in the body that contribute to heart disease speed up. By about age 65, when most women are through menopause, a woman’s risk of heart disease almost equals that of a man’s.

Every woman’s menopause experience is different. If you are considering hormone replacement therapy to decrease your symptoms of menopause, talk to your healthcare provider first. HRT can increase your risk for heart disease among other health problems. The current recommendation for hormone replacement therapy is the lowest dose of medication for the shortest amount of time possible, to decrease the risk to your heart.

If you think you have any symptoms of heart disease, tell your healthcare provider right away.

“I got everything in the book from indigestion, acid reflux, everything but heart disease. When it was all the time, I had blocked arteries.”

Because heart disease can be overlooked in women, you need to be active in your own healthcare.

“See your doctor. And if they keep telling you that it’s not your heart, and you feel that it is your heart, keep insisting that they find out or send you to someone that will check.”

“I think that women are so used to taking care of their families that they don’t make time for themselves. Women are very good at not taking time for themselves - putting themselves last.”

“One of the things that’s come out of this is that I’m learning to love myself more. And I’ve learned to put myself higher at the top of the list of things to do.”

Even though heart disease is often thought of as a man’s disease, as a woman, you may be at risk for heart disease. Go ahead and put yourself and your heart on the top of your priority list. And make sure your heart gets the attention it needs.

For more information on women and heart disease, contact the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative, or the American Medical Women’s Association, all of which offer a variety of free educational resources.

Animation Copyright © Milner-Fenwick

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Severe chest pain is not always present with a heart attack, especially for older adults, people with diabetes and women. They may experience sudden shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness, fatigue or weakness. Don’t take a chance. Call 9-1-1.