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Heart Disease in Women

Although Heart Disease is commonly believed to be a disease for men, women are no exception to it. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death in Indian women. Besides, the risk of heart disease in Indian women is eight times more compared to that of breast cancer. Therefore, the more a woman comes to know about heart disease, the better chance she has to combat it.

Causes of Heart Disease

You may hear your doctor use the term, Atherosclerosis, meaning build-up of plaque (fatty deposits) and cholesterol on the inner walls of arteries, which blocks or restricts the flow of blood to the heart. Without enough blood, the heart does not receive oxygen or other nutrients needed to work properly. Such a condition is called ischemia which causes symptoms of heart disease like angioplasty, angina (chest pain). And, when one or more of the arteries gets completely heart blocked, a heart attack can occur.

Heart Disease Symptoms for Women

Heart Disease in women can be different. For instance, heart attack symptoms in women can be different compared to what men experience. While chest pain may not often be a symptom for women but jaw pain can be. Although not prominent, women may experience uncomfortable pressure, discomfort, squeezing, or pain in the chest. It may be for a few minutes or may go away and come back. Sometimes, a heart attack may occur in women without chest pain. Symptoms in women occur more often when they are resting or even when they are asleep. Stress also may be a trigger a heart attack in women.

Some of the symptoms experienced by women include:

  • Discomfort or pain in one arm or both arms
  • Discomfort or pain in upper back, jaw, neck, stomach,
  • Shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmia
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Cold sweat, nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is important to call your doctor, especially when they become severe or more frequent.

Heart disease risk factors for women 

Although men and women share several common risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, there are few other factors that play a major role in women developing heart disease.

Risk factors include:

  • Diabetes: Diabetic women are at a higher risk of heart disease compared to men with diabetes.
  • Menopause: Estrogen, a female hormone, provides women some protection against heart disease. Post menopause, low levels of estrogen, pose a greater risk factor for developing heart disease.
  • Depression and Mental Stress: The heart of a woman is affected more by stress and depression than that of a man. Depression is a serious condition that cannot be neglected. With depression, it is difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. So, speak to your doctor if you feel any symptoms of depression.
  • Smoking: Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease in women, compared to men.
  • Inactivity: Lack of physical activity is also a greater risk factor in women. Many research studies have shown women to be more inactive than men.
  • Radiation therapy and some chemotherapy drugs for cancer: Radiation therapies and certain chemotherapy drugs like those used for the treatment of breast cancer, may also increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Pregnancy complications: Gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy may raise the risk of heart disease in mothers.

Apart from the above, women with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis are also at a greater risk of heart disease.

Preventing the Heart Disease

Reducing your risk factors involves making changes in the lifestyle, which includes:

  • Quit smoke, if you are a smoker
  • Reduce stress. Know your triggers and speak to an expert to reduce stress. Meditation often work
  • Make dietary changes to control your blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and manage your blood sugar if you are diabetic can help in prevention. Sticking to low-sodium (salt), low-cholesterol and low-fat foods may help to a great extent. A qualified dietitian can help you make the right dietary changes. Your local healthcare providers may offer nutrition programs and classes to help you reach the set goals.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption is also very important
  • Increase your activity or exercise. This will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. A 30-minute exercise a day, on, at least, 3 days a week is recommended. Talk to your doctor online before initiating an exercise program.

Diagnosing Heart Disease in women 

Your doctor will perform a physical examination after talking to you about your symptoms, medical history, and risk factor. Based on your evaluation, your doctor may suggest some diagnostic tests like blood tests, an EKG (echocardiogram), ECG (electrocardiogram), exercise stress test (along with stress echocardiography or nuclear imaging – the heart imaging technology), CTA (coronary CT angiogram) or cardiac catheterization. These tests may provide a more comprehensive and accurate picture of the health of a woman’s heart. The tests may also help your doctor assess the extent of your heart disease, its effect on the heart’s function and the best approach to your treatment.

You can also avail a complete heart check-up package offered by your local healthcare provider to know the condition of your heart in advance. Other tests used to predict the risk of heart disease are complete lipid profile, lipoprotein, calcium score screening heart scan, C-reactive protein (CRP) among others.

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