McLaren Health Care
Women and Heart Disease

Women and Heart Disease

Heart Disease Is The Number One Threat to Women's Health.

Most women fear breast cancer, yet heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. More than one of every three women over the age of 60 dies of heart disease--more than all cancers combined.

The good news is that women reverse heart disease more easily than men, whether it is through diet or cholesterol lowering drugs. The first step toward doing this is creating greater awareness of heart health.

Many women are not well informed about heart disease. Until recently, repeated studies have shown that women receive less aggressive treatment for heart conditions. The rates at which women receive "clot-busting" therapy for heart attacks, undergo angiography (diagnostic test used to track blood flow) or are scheduled for bypass surgery have been much less than those of men.

Heart Attack symptoms for men and women differ, substantially. While men have little warning and their classical symptoms include crushing pain and heaviness on the left side of the heart, women often have a neck ache, pain the back or breast, stomach pain, heartburn, nausea and shortness of breath, especially if symptoms appear after exercise. These symptoms are easily mistaken for stress, a stomach virus, acid reflux or gallbladder attack, which can delay the diagnosis of heart disease.

Women themselves often don't take their symptoms seriously. Women are more tolerant of pain and less aggressive about seeking medical care.

Treadmill tests are less sensitive for women, more often giving false positive findings. Therefore, many doctors are reluctant to use only a stress test.

Newer technologies, such as perfusion imaging scans with injected radioactive thallium or stress echocardiography, are a more effective means of diagnosing heart disease in women. The stress echo entails performing stress test and taking ultrasound pictures before and after exercise on a treadmill.

Some of the treatments that are currently available for heart attack / heart disease include:

  • angioplasty - insertion of a thin catheter with an inflatable tip into the blocked artery to stretch the vessel open;
  • thrombolysis - infusion of a clot-dissolving substance during or right after a heart attack;
  • nitrates - in tablet, patch or spray form, nitrates dilate blood vessels;
    blood thinning medications - aspirin, among other medications, can decrease blood clotting;
  • beta blockers - drugs that slow heart rate and increase coronary artery blood flow;
  • coronary bypass surgery - severely blocked arteries are surgically bypassed by grafting in new blood vessels.

Women do just as well as men with many of these interventions and with Cardiac Rehabilitation.

With positive lifestyle changes, women can avoid the complications of heart disease and treatment therapies. Risk factors that women can control include: smoking, excess weight, high LDL cholesterol, and diabetes.