(Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre, 2022)
In general, we refer to Cardiovascular illness as a "man's disease," and 50% more women than men are likely to die within a year after having a heart attack (3). Isn't that shocking? According to the American Heart Association, there's a 90% chance that women will experience one or more risk factors for heart disease at some time in their life, and 80% of cardiovascular illnesses are avoidable(1). Understanding the disparities between how men's and women's cardiac disease is treated and diagnosed are critical factors affecting women's survival rates (3). In this blog, we will discuss how women's heart health differs, recognize heart attack symptoms, and discuss some measures to prevent heart disease risk.
Differences in Women's Heart Health
• Women's arteries and hearts are smaller than men's. However, their heart rates are higher than men's(3). Moreover, female hormones shorten arteries, making them more vulnerable to blood clots or blockages and much more challenging to heal (3).
• While men and women share most conventional risk factors, certain risk variables are associated with a higher relative risk in women (3). Women are particularly vulnerable to smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a family history of heart disease (3). In addition, mental stress and sadness, idleness, menopause, broken heart syndrome, and pregnancy difficulties are the dangers that disproportionately impact women (4). The former is partly due to the fact that some hazards have a more significant impact on women's hearts than on men (4).
• It is essential for women to take care of themselves at all ages (3). Although most women's first symptoms or heart attacks occur beyond the age of 65, men's indications or heart attacks begin around 55 (3). However, artery-clogging plaque can form as young as 20 (3). Younger women are thought to be protected against heart difficulties by estrogen, but when estrogen levels decline throughout menopause, the risk of heart disease increases (3). Women are more likely to develop additional illnesses, such as diabetes, as they become older, complicating the diagnosis and management of heart disease (3).
• The appearance of cardiac disease in women differs from that of males (3). The majority of heart disease diagnostic recommendations were based on research of male patients (3). Modern medical standards, for example, aim to detect a type of artery injury which is more frequent in males than in women when evaluating coronary artery disease (3). As a result, women may have missed or delayed diagnoses, resulting in treatment delays (3).
• Specific diagnostic tests in cardiology that have long been deemed standard have been shown to provide contradictory or misleading results in some groups of women (3).
• Women might be treated differently than males (3). When it comes to heart disease, women's cardio health is not well explored and under-diagnosed, which leads to under-treatment in many situations (3). As a result, women are not usually given the best care since the severity of their sickness is undervalued (3).
The American Heart Association's (AHA) Go Red for Women initiative informs women on the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as specific risk factors that need to be recognized (4).
The Symptoms of Heart Attack
Women may experience symptoms such as back pain, generally just on the left side, shoulder pain, a feeling of stomach fullness, or nausea as indications of an impending heart attack, in addition to the common symptoms of heart attack shared by both men and women such as chest pressure, chest discomfort, and difficulty breathing (1).
The American Heart Association provides a visual comparison of the different heart attack symptoms between men and women.
Measures to Prevent the Risk of Heart Disease
1. Incorporate additional aerobic activity, such as swimming and walking, into your routine (5). Throughout the week, you should engage in at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like quick walking or cycling, to thoroughly safeguard your heart (5).
2. Remember to have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly, and if you're over 40, talk to your doctor about getting a health check to assess your risk of heart disease (5).
3. Maintain balanced bodyweight (5). Excessive weight puts a burden on your heart, and there is an increased risk of having high cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which increase your risk of heart disease (5).
4. According to studies, young females currently smoke more than young males (5). Quitting smoking will reduce your risk of developing heart disease (5).
5. Limit your alcohol consumption to a minimum or keep it under the recommended drinking limit (5). Binge drinking, or drinking excessively, can harm the heart muscle, causing abnormal heart rhythms or leading to cardiac arrest (5).
6. Consume a balanced diet, paying special attention to avoiding exceeding the recommended daily salt intake of 6 g and reducing saturated fat consumption (5). Eat loads of fruits and leafy greens regularly (5).
7. Learn to manage your stress because it can put your heart under a lot of pressure (5). Simple strategies, such as meditation, can help (5).
8. Have plenty of rest (1). Sleep deprivation has been related to high blood pressure, makes weight loss harder, and makes you less willing to exercise (1). According to studies, not receiving enough sleep, defined as less than six or seven hours a night, is linked to heart disease (1).
9. If you have a pregnancy issue, inform your doctor about it (1). It has been noticed that diabetes and hypertension during pregnancy and premature birth have been related to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease years down the line (1).
1. American Heart Association News. (2019). 6 things every woman should know about heart health. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/10/04/6-things-every-woman-should-know-about-heart health#:~:text=Among%20women%2C%2090%25%20have%20one,of%20cardiovascular%20diseases%20are%20preventable.&text=It's%20important%20to%20get%20annual,and%20take%20action%2C%20Mieres%20said.
2. Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre (2022). National Program. https://cwhhc.ottawaheart.ca/national-alliance/projects-and-initiatives/wear-red-canada/national-program
3. Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre. (n.d.). What Makes Women Different. https://cwhhc.ottawaheart.ca/education/what-makes-women-different
4. DiGrande, S. (2019). 5 Things to Know About Women's Heart Health. American Journal of Managed Care. https://www.ajmc.com/view/5-things-to-know-about-womens-heart-health
5. PharmEasy. (2017). Support Women’s Heart Health: National Wear Red Day. https://pharmeasy.in/blog/support-womens-heart-health-national-wear-red-day/