Studies show that for every two women, one of them will develop heart disease. Each year, nearly twice as many women die from heart disease and stroke than from all forms of cancer combined. The approximately 500,000 heart attack deaths that occur annually in this country and are evenly split between men and women. Unless women see heart disease as part of their disease profile, they are less likely heed to heart disease prevention messages early in life with a decreased response to heart disease symptoms later in life.
One of the telltale signs of heart disease is chest pain or tightness, known as angina that occurs during physically demanding tasks. such as climbing stairs or under emotional strain. This pain can make a person short of breath. It can radiate to the jaw, neck, shoulders, or inner arms. Angina occurs because narrowed arteries in the heart deprive it of oxygen-rich blood. If a blood clot completely chokes off the blood supply in these arteries in what is known as a heart attack, chest pain usually becomes more severe and lasts longer. Chest pain may not be as good a diagnostic clue of serious heart disease in women as it is in men. Women are more likely to have such conditions as heartburn or spasms of the esophagus or heart arteries, which can cause chest pain that resembles angina. Women have an increased tendency to think chest and shoulder pains are mere muscle strains. Many women have the mindset of waiting a few days and the pain will disappear. That waiting could place a woman in a life-threatening situation of having a fatal heart attack. Ignoring or the “wait and see” practice can ultimately result in a more serious health issue or even death. Women are more likely than men to have "silent" or unrecognized heart attacks. Women are more likely than men to have nausea and pain high up in the abdomen or burning in their chest during a heart attack.
A standard test for heart disease includes an exercise stress test. Researchers recently developed statistical standards for the treadmill stress test in women that uses a woman's age and risk factors for heart disease to improve accuracy. Another test includes having the heart’s activity monitored by ultrasound in what is known as a stress echocardiogram. Nuclear ventriculography is useful test that uses radioactive tracers to measure how much blood is pumped by the heart with each beat at rest and during exercise.
Treatments include coronary angioplasty. A tiny balloon is inserted into blocked heart arteries and their branches, and then inflated to compress the plaque that is obstructing the flow of blood to the heart. Treatments for heart attacks also include "clot-busting" drugs and biologics such as tissue plasminogen activator and streptokinase. If these are given within hours of a heart attack, it can limit the damage to the heart by quickly dissolving the clots blocking heart arteries. Aspirin and beta-blocker drugs are equally effective in women and men in preventing a second heart attack.
A diet low in cholesterol, use of medications or other measures to stem high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, decreasing consumption alcohol if they have high blood levels of triglycerides, and incorporating a regular routine of aerobic exercise have been shown to be effective interventions. Research will continue to bring diagnostic and treatments in the fore ground to paint a complete and accurate picture of the best ways to prevent, diagnose and treat heart disease in women.
With the often elusive symptoms of heart disease and a heart attack in women, women must be more in tune to their bodies, making sure they do not ignore questionable symptoms. The old practice of ignoring pain or “wait and see” adage is not in the best interest of any woman and increases the risk if a fatal cardiac outcome. Talk to doctor, discuss your symptoms. Being assertiveness and making sure your doctor hears your concern and proceeds with testing is a way to help insure you are not going to be a fatal heart statistic.
Be good to your heart. You can’t live without it.