WOMEN AND HEART DISEASE:
‘You’ve come a long way baby... .’ was the byline of the Virginia Slims cigarette ad campaign for a long time. That line unfortunately holds true in the area of heart disease, where contrary to popular belief, as many women suffer every year as men.
In fact, heart disease kills more women than any other disease. This comes as a surprise to most, as heart disease was always thought to be a ‘man’s disease’, while breast cancer was considered to be the ultimate nemesis of women. In fact, women are as much at risk for heart disease as men are, but are protected by their hormones till they reach menopause. This does not imply that pre-menopausal women cannot suffer, but their numbers are smaller.
A sad statistic is that women tend to receive much less treatment than men, and studies have shown that a much larger percentage of women die within one year after having a heart attack, as compared to men. One possible explanation is that women tend to get heart disease later in life and are therefore more likely to have coexisting chronic conditions. Though the heart is structurally similar, there are several differences between men and women when it comes to heart disease.
Men and Women: Same heart, different symptoms.
- A woman has a 50% chance of dying from a first heart attack as compared with a 30% chance for a man.
- Often women don’t experience the classic warning signs of a heart attack-chest pain, radiating to the arms, as men do. The symptoms women experience tend to include breathlessness, vomiting, pain in the neck, sweating and nausea.
- Women are almost twice as likely as men to die after by-pass surgery
- Women are 20% more likely than men to die in the hospital following a heart attack
- Women receive less aggressive treatment than men for their heart disease
One area of women’s health which has perhaps generated the maximum amount of controversy and confusion is hormone replacement therapy. Until recently it was thought that this therapy consisting of estrogen and progestin in varying combinations was protective for the heart. However, results from recent studies have contradicted these findings. The current scientific recommendations for hormone replacement are:
- This therapy should be started only after consultation with a physician, preferably the gynaecologist
- Relief from the symptoms of menopause should be the primary reason for taking hormone replacement therapy
- Hormone therapy should not be used to prevent heart disease
- Hormone therapies have been shown to help build stronger bones; however, women should weigh the risks of hormone therapy before taking it to prevent osteoporosis
STEPS A WOMEN CAN TAKE TO PROTECT HERSELF:
· Get checked regularly, especially after menopause
· Quit smoking: smoking increases a woman’s risk for a heart attack three-fold
· Control cholesterol: high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL put a woman at a much higher risk. Women should aim to keep HDL levels above 50.
· Keep the BP down: Blood pressure should be maintained below 120/80 mmHg
· Keep the sugar down: Women with diabetes are three to seven times more likely to have heart attacks
· Control the weight: Excess fat increases the risk for heart disease. However, the fat around the thighs is not as harmful as fat around the stomach.
written by Dr. Aashish Contractor. Asian Heart)