Heart Disease is a Woman’s Disease Too

heartHeart disease remains the No. 1 killer of women in America. One in three women dies of heart disease. A majority of women believe that cancers pose a greater risk to women’s health than heart disease, however 50 percent of women die from cardiovascular disease compared to 4 percent from breast cancer. In 2006, all cardiovascular diseases in the United States combined claimed the lives of almost twice as many females compared to all forms of cancer combined. Diabetes is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease. Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. These risks are even greater for a woman with diabetes. For example, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease three to seven times in women versus two to three times in men. Diabetes doubles the risk of a second heart attack in women. Low levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein), the “good” cholesterol, appears to be a stronger predictor of heart disease deaths in women than in men in the over-65 age group. High levels of triglycerides, another type of fat, also appear to be a particularly important risk factor in women.

There are other differences between men and women when it comes to heart disease. More women die from cardiovascular disease than men, including strokes. Twenty-three percent of women age 40 and older who have an initial recognized heart attack die within a year compared with 18 percent of men. This happens in part because women have heart attacks at older ages than men do, so they’re more likely to die within a few weeks. Two-thirds of women who die suddenly have no previously recognized symptoms. Women experience heart attacks differently than men — more than 50 percent of women do not experience the classic chest pain. Back pain, abdominal pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting are some of the symptoms that may be seen instead. These atypical symptoms may delay medical attention and affect the outcome. In addition, more women than men will have a second heart attack within six years after the first heart attack.

Obesity contributes to cardiovascular risk by increasing risk for abnormal cholesterol, high-blood pressure and insulin resistance. Risk estimates from population studies suggest that more than 75 percent of hypertension can be directly attributed to obesity. Changes in HDL levels are more pronounced in women than in men. The association between obesity and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is more complex. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations increase with the body mass index in men, but such increases are not as pronounced in women, the elderly and some ethnic groups.

Most women fail to make the connection between risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, and their “personal” risk. Misperceptions still exist that cardiovascular disease is not a real problem for women and many are unaware of how their personal risks weigh in comparison to their male counterparts.

It is our role as physicians to educate both men and women on the seriousness of cardiovascular disease in America.

We need to educate women that heart disease is indeed a woman’s disease and that the risks that affect the men in our lives, also affect us. In fact, these risks may impact us more strongly, so we need to be aware and take action.

All of us need to take a look at these risks as a call for change. These risks can be modified and can even be eliminated if we take charge of our health. Weight loss can have a potent and unanimous impact across all of the modifiable cardiovascular risks, such as hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cholesterol. It’s not easy to make a lifestyle change to reduce weight and keep it off, but it is certainly possible and we see it happen every day. Let’s change the odds together!  2/10

http://www.mercurynews.com/peninsula/ci_14329720

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