Women and Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for women as they are six times more likely to die from a heart condition than breast cancer. Even though CVD is one of the most dangerous diseases, women are underinformed and undereducated. Cardiovascular disease does differentiate significantly between both females and males. However, only 56% of women are aware of the real dangers that CVD poses. Due to differentiation in hormonal processes with changes, pregnancies, and menstruation: a woman’s heart is different from a male’s and therefore is impacted differently with cardiovascular disease. For example, women have a different heart structure, such as blockages in the main, smaller arteries. For these reasons this disease cannot be assessed like it is for males. The differences between sexes are evident in regards to symptoms, risk factors, and treatment.
To start, the leading differentiation in CVD are symptoms. Women’s symptoms are often dismissed as emotional stress and tend to appear when resting or sleeping. This increases the difficulty of detection. Some women don’t notice any symptoms until the heart muscle is already damaged. Some emergencies may seem to occur spontaneously due to undetectable symptoms, including heart attack, arrhythmia, and heart failure. For instance, a common symptom associated with cardiovascular disease is chest pain. However, in women, this is not a very severe symptom. In some cases, one’s chest may seem to be at complete ease. Some common symptoms that women experience a month before a heart attack include shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance, indigestion, anxiety, heart racing, and heavy or weak arms. During a heart attack, identifying symptoms is equally difficult; failing to alert the patient of any emergency. When a heart attack occurs, women may feel weak, experience shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, cold sweat, dizziness, nausea, and weak or heavy arms.
Along with symptoms, the risk factors of women developing CVD are also different compared to men. For instance, some risk factors—diabetes—put women in a significantly higher danger than men. Women are more likely to develop CVD as a result of diabetes since it is known to alter the feelings of pain, resulting in an unalerted heart attack with no chest pain. Smoking and physical inactivity has proven to pose a bigger threat for women than for men. Complications like hypertension and diabetes during pregnancy, relating to other risk factors of CVD, will increase a woman’s long-term risk.
To debunk the popular misconception, older women are not the only potential victims of CVD. Women of any age are in danger of cardiovascular disease. One in 16 women, aged 20 or older, suffer severe heart conditions. Reducing the risk factors of CVD early can save one’s life and prevent a damaged heart. The preventable risk factors of CVD include quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and tracking personal blood pressure and cholesterol levels. One should also be educated in this branch of disease and track any personal family history relating to it.
The last main difference of CVD between men and women relates to its treatment and proper support. For instance, women are more likely to suffer complications during medical procedures—increasing the chances of a more severe complication or condition a year later. They are also less likely to be directed to cardiac rehabilitation or given proper support to prevent future heart attacks. Males are also often prescribed more medication than women. The lack of specialized research on women’s specific needs and experience with cardiovascular disease prevents the same support, guidance, and rehabilitation opportunities available for men.
Women’s cardiovascular disease may originate from early-childhood and will continue to remain with them until permanent damage has occurred. Avoid waiting for an emergency to take precautions against it. CVD should not be dismissed as a “men’s disease” as it can equally affect women.
“How Heart Disease Is Different for Women.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 4 Oct. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease/art-20046167.
Norris, Colleen M., et al. “State of the Science in Women's Cardiovascular Disease: A Canadian Perspective on the Influence of Sex and Gender.” Journal of the American Heart Association, 17 Feb. 2020, www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.015634.
Publishing, Harvard Health. “Gender Matters: Heart Disease Risk in Women.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/gender-matters-heart-disease-risk-in-women.
“Women and Heart Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm.
“Women and Heart Disease.” Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, www.heartandstroke.ca/heart-disease/what-is-heart-disease/types-of-heart-disease/women-and-heart-disease.