Heart disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 65. Nearly twice as many women in the US die of heart disease and stroke as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer. Studies indicate that along with aging, the natural withdrawal of estrogen at menopause puts women at an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease over time.
On average, women develop heart disease 10 years later than men. Prior to menopause, women have one-fifth the rate of heart disease as men of the same age. By age 65, women’s risk is equal to that of their male counterparts. While the risk of developing cardiovascular disease may be similar by age 65, there are some differences between men and women when it comes to something as serious as a heart attack.
Chest pain, pressure, or squeezing, radiating to the neck, back or jaw are common symptoms present in the majority of both women and men when they have a heart attack. However, women more often than men may not have this “classic” presentation. Women may have milder symptoms or describe them differently. Other symptoms to watch for, particularly in women, are shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and indigestion.
Angina, which is associated with partial or complete blockages in the coronary arteries, occurs when sufficient blood carrying oxygen does not reach the heart muscle. Similar to men, women who experience angina usually describe it as a feeling of tightness, heaviness, pressure or squeezing in the chest. However, women may also experience new or different physical symptoms for a month or more prior to an attack. Women have been found to feel unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety in the weeks leading up to a heart attack, even before chest pain occurs. Some women may experience pain in their shoulder, arm, neck, jaw or back in the weeks prior to a heart attack. In short, women and men may experience less typical symptoms with a heart attack, but women have atypical symptoms more frequently than men do.
I will be hosting the Red Hot Mamas program, “The Beat Goes On,” on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at Portneuf Medical Center and we will be discussing you and your heart. The free seminar will be held in the Pebble Creek Auditorium. Doors open at 6pm and the presentation will begin at 6:30. There will be a question and answer session following the presentation. Registration is preferred; to register, call Portneuf Community Education and Events Line at 208-239-1401. To learn more about upcoming events and seminars at Portneuf on Facebook.
Even before menopause, all women beginning at age 40 should undergo a careful assessment of their cardiovascular risk factors and begin a dialogue with their physician about ways to prevent this serious, life-threatening disease. If you are concerned about your risk for developing heart disease, have a family history of heart disease or if you have experienced symptoms, talk to your primary care physician or a cardiologist. There is a broad range of diagnostic and treatment options available that can change the course of heart disease and significantly enhance your quality of life.