Women & Heart Disease

Women & Heart Disease


Hello, I’m Dr. Aliya Browne. I’m a
board-certified cardiologist with MidMichigan Health and a member of the
comprehensive heart and vascular team. I’m here today to answer some common
questions about women and heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of
death for women in the United States. While about the same number of women and men die of the disease annually, fewer women survive their first heart attack.
In many cases women don’t realize they are experiencing a heart attack since
their symptoms aren’t always clear or well understood. Many times this results
in the delay in getting treatment. Women also have higher rates of additional
medical problems, such as diabetes which contribute to worse outcomes. Women and men have similar symptoms of heart disease, including the most common symptoms of chest pain or shortness of
breath; however women’s symptoms differ and they have a tendency to experience more of the less common symptoms.
These may include throat tightness, left arm pain, or lightheadedness with
activity. Other less common symptoms include pain or discomfort in the upper
back, arms, neck or jaw. Some people present only with a noticeable increase
in fatigue or inability to do activities they once could do, especially in the
elderly. Yes, there are several. Polycystic ovarian
syndrome is a condition that is often associated with obesity, hypertension and
glucose intolerance, all traditional risk factors for heart disease. Some
treatments for breast cancer may cause injury to the heart muscle. Turner
syndrome is a genetic condition that affects only females, and they have a
high incidence of hypertension and elevated cholesterol, as well as a
greater likelihood of conditions that affect their a aorta. Pregnancy-related
conditions, such as premature birth, low birth weight, and pregnancy-induced
hypertension, often are risk factors for heart disease later on. Postpartum
cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the function of the heart reduces after
giving birth and causes the heart to fail, is a life-threatening condition
that can occur after delivery. Just like in men, heart disease affects
women of all ages; however, as we get older your heart disease risk increases.
Menopause often brings with it an increase in cholesterol levels,
hypertension, and weight gain which all can contribute to an increased risk of
developing heart disease. The loss of protective estrogens
also increases the risk of coronary heart disease in the post menopausal
period. We also commonly see women in the perimenopausal period presenting with
palpitations due to hormonal changes. These can be quite disruptive to their
lives. We divide risk into non-modifiable and
modifiable categories. While age and family history are non-modifiable, there
are modifiable risk factors that can reduce a woman’s overall risk. These
include maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular exercise at least 30
minutes most days of the week, eating a heart-healthy diet low in fat and high in
fiber, fruits and vegetables, knowing your numbers by maintaining a healthy blood
pressure less than 120 over 80, normal blood sugar fasting less than 100, and
cholesterol levels total less than 200. LDL levels less than 130 and quit
smoking these all will reduce your risk of developing heart disease. if your symptoms are mild in nature
discuss them with your primary care physician or advanced practice provider
to verify that it may be heart related. Your provider may order cardiac testing
to determine if your symptoms are related to your heart or may refer you
directly to a cardiologist like myself. If you develop more significant chest
pain, shortness of breath or sudden rapid heart rate that does not resolve in five
to ten minutes, you should call 911 immediately. Do not try to drive yourself to an emergency room.

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