Yes, it’s true. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease takes more women than all cancers combined. Yet surveys show that only about half of you are aware of that fact. February is American Heart Month.
THE GENDER GAP IN HEART ATTACK DEATHS
The risk of death after a heart attack is higher in women than men.
Medical research has not been clear about why this occurs. Women are likely to be older than men when they suffer a first heart attack because estrogen has a heart-protective effect. Being older on average, a woman may have poorer overall health at the time of her heart attack. But women younger than 55 are still about 30% more likely than men to die after a heart attack. Understanding possible reasons for this difference may help you or a loved one avoid becoming part of this troubling statistic.
- Many of us still think of heart disease as a “man’s disease,” despite the fact that roughly the same numbers of men and women in the U.S. die of heart disease each year. Women may not think much about their risk factors for heart disease and the need to make life changes to reduce those risks.
- Even physicians may be influenced by this misconception. Medical research on heart disease has included more men than women. Men may benefit from more aggressive diagnostic testing and treatment.
- Women often have different, more subtle symptoms that we (and even our physicians) may not recognize as a heart attack. What’s more, almost two-thirds (64%) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR HEART HEALTH
- Know your risk factors. Age, gender and family history influence the likelihood that you will develop heart disease. Although these risks are already determined, it is very important to inform your physician about your family risk factors. Which relatives have high blood pressure, diabetes, and history of heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease? How old were they when they developed these conditions?
- Know “Life’s Simple 7TM Keys to Prevention.” (Am. Heart Assoc.) Together with your physician, you can control risk factors like smoking, weight, diet, exercise, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Use tool as a guide.
- Recognize warning signs of a heart attack. Most people would recognize a heart attack in a middle-aged man who suddenly fell to the floor clutching his chest. The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. But some describe the feeling as pressure, squeezing, fullness, or tightness. They sometimes identify discomfort in the chest, but other times it’s in the arm, neck, back, jaw, or stomach. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, sudden sweating, nausea/vomiting, or lightheadedness.
- Women tend to ignore their own discomforts as they meet the demands of their busy lives. They may brush aside these serious warning signs thinking it’s just stress or the flu or something else. This short video, “Just a Little Heart Attack,” produced by comedic actress Elizabeth Banks for “Go Red for Women,” will help you remember these symptoms at a time when it really counts.
As obstetricians and gynecologists, we see most of you at least once a year. Over many years, we get to know you, your family risks, and your individual health challenges. We will help you identify your personal risks, and we will support and encourage you to make heart-healthy decisions for life.