World Heart Health 2023: Women might experience chest pain along with other signs
Heart disease is often perceived as a male-centric health issue, but this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide. However, gender plays a crucial role in the development, presentation, and management of heart disease. Women's heart health remains a significant concern, and understanding gender-specific risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options is essential for reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease in women.
Gender-Specific Risk Factors
While men and women share some common risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking, there are distinct gender-specific factors that can increase a woman's risk of developing heart problems.
1. Hormonal Changes
Hormones play a vital role in heart health, and fluctuations in hormone levels during a woman's life can affect her cardiovascular risk. Estrogen, for example, has a protective effect on the arteries, which diminishes after menopause. This transition can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.
2. Pregnancy Complications
Certain pregnancy-related conditions, like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, can be warning signs for future heart problems. Women who have experienced these conditions during pregnancy should be vigilant about their heart health in the years following childbirth.
3. Autoimmune Diseases
Conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are more common in women and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease due to inflammation and immune system dysfunction.
4. Mental Health Factors
Depression and chronic stress, which are more prevalent in women, can contribute to heart disease by affecting lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, and increasing inflammation.
5. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects many women of childbearing age. It's associated with insulin resistance and obesity, both of which can elevate the risk of heart disease.
6. Clacium Deficiency
Calcium deficiency in women can not only precipitate osteoporosis but also can affect function of the heart muscle and overall health. Measuring calcium levels post 40 very important.
Although incidence of heart disease is lower compared to men, usually tends to be more aggressive and harder to manage than in men. True in cases of both coronary artery disease and valvular heart disease. Hence early detection is the key screening.
Common Heart Disease Symptoms in Women
Recognizing the symptoms of heart disease is crucial for early diagnosis and treatment. While both men and women can experience chest pain, women often present with different, sometimes subtler, symptoms. This can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment, making it essential for women to be aware of the signs that may indicate heart problems.
1. Chest Pain or Discomfort
While women can experience typical chest pain (angina), they are more likely than men to have atypical symptoms. These may include a squeezing, pressure-like discomfort in the chest that can radiate to the back, neck, jaw, or shoulder blades.
2. Shortness of Breath
Unexplained breathlessness, even at rest or during mild physical activity, can be a sign of heart disease in women.
3. Nausea and Vomiting
Women may experience nausea or vomiting, often mistaken for digestive issues, during a heart attack.
4. Unexplained Fatigue
Persistent, extreme fatigue, especially when combined with other symptoms like shortness of breath, should be taken seriously.
5. Dizziness and Lightheadedness
Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, or even fainting, can occur in women experiencing heart issues.
6. Pain in the Neck, Jaw, Back, or Shoulder
Discomfort or pain in these areas may be cardiac-related in women.
7. Cold Sweats
Experiencing cold sweats, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms, should raise concerns about heart health.
Treatment Approaches for Women
The treatment of heart disease in women is tailored to their unique needs and risk factors. While many of the treatment strategies overlap with those for men, certain considerations are specific to women's heart health.
1. Lifestyle Modifications
Lifestyle changes are the cornerstone of heart disease prevention and management. Women should aim to maintain a healthy weight, engage in regular physical activity, follow a heart-healthy diet, manage stress, and avoid smoking.
Medications such as statins, blood pressure medications, and antiplatelet drugs may be prescribed based on individual risk factors and disease severity. Hormone therapy is a complex and controversial area, and women should discuss the risks and benefits with their healthcare provider.
3. Cardiac Rehabilitation
Cardiac rehabilitation programs can help women recover from heart-related events and provide support for adopting heart-healthy habits.
4. Invasive Procedures
In some cases, women may require invasive procedures like angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery to treat blocked arteries. The choice of procedure depends on the extent and location of the blockage.
5. Preventive Measures
Given the association between pregnancy complications and heart disease, women with a history of gestational diabetes or preeclampsia should be closely monitored and take preventive measures to reduce their cardiovascular risk.
6. Mental Health Support
Addressing mental health concerns, such as depression and chronic stress, is essential. Women should seek psychological support when needed to reduce the impact of these risk factors on their heart health.
Women's heart health is a distinct and critical aspect of cardiovascular medicine. While heart disease affects both men and women, women face unique risk factors, symptoms, and treatment considerations. Recognizing these gender-specific factors and promoting heart-healthy habits is crucial for reducing the burden of heart disease in women. Regular check-ups, open communication with healthcare providers, and a proactive approach to heart health can help women live longer, healthier lives. Remember, a heart-healthy lifestyle is the best defense against heart disease, regardless of gender.
Dr. Niranjan Hiremath, Senior Consultant- Cardiovascular and Aortic surgery, Apollo Hospital
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts, or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.