Why Heart Disease May Be More Dangerous for Women
For years, medical experts have known that women exhibit different symptoms of heart disease than men. And these differences can lead to life-threatening medical mistakes. Yet surprisingly, the American Heart Association says that most women and their healthcare providers are completely unaware that heart disease affects women differently. Experts attribute this lack of awareness to the fact that the majority of heart disease research has focused mainly on how the condition affects men. But regardless of the reason, this results in 53,000 women suffering fatal heart attacks every year. In addition, 26% of women die within one first year of their first heart attack, compared to 19% of men.
Beating Down the Difference in Heart Disease for Women
Most of the time, blocked arteries are the cause of heart attacks in both men and women. That’s because blockages directly decrease the amount of blood flow to the heart. But it’s the way that these blockages form that can differ for each gender.
Experts find that women generally have less severe blockages than men. This decreased degree of blockage leads many women’s health providers to assume that the woman’s blockage is less cause for concern and fail to properly diagnose them. But the fact is that any degree of artery blockage can do significant damage to the larger arteries carrying blood to the heart and lead to a heart attack.
And it’s also important to realize that women have smaller blood vessels than men and are likely to have other contributing conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. So a lesser amount of blockage can cause just as much of a risk of both heart disease and heart attack.
Plus, women show different signs of a heart attack than men. While the most common signs of a heart attack are chest pain or discomfort around the heart for both genders, women tend to also have less-typical symptoms, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Back pain
- Jaw pain
In contrast, men experience twice the amount of shoulder pain and arm pain to indicate a heart attack.
But the lack of awareness about these distinctions causes a woman’s blockages to be taken less seriously than a man’s, as well as cause women to wait longer to seek treatment for a heart attack because they don’t show the usual symptoms. As a result, women aren’t warned to take the proper precautions against heart disease or get the life-saving medication they need to protect themselves from a heart attack.
This is why it’s vital for women and their healthcare providers to understand the different way that heart disease affects women. Only by establishing this awareness can more women’s lives be saved.
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