It’s past time we insist on questioning the differences in diagnosing-treating heart disease between men-women.
Too many steps are being missed and medications not being given when women have heart disease and heart attacks…Even in the hospital.
The number one cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women is heart disease. For both sexes, about 1 out of 4 deaths is due to heart disease, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
It all boils down to becoming aware of how we differ in terms of heart disease and then spreading awareness. Yes, even to our physicians.
Medical staff, as well as the public, are more attuned to the risks and heart attack symptoms in men.
But being aware of that doesn’t make the differences in diagnosing-treating heart disease between men-women right.
We know, for instance, that certain risk factors are higher for younger male adults.
- Until the age of 45, more men than women have high blood pressure, a known heart disease risk factor.
According to the American Heart Association, however, the risk of hypertension evens out between men and women between the ages of 45 and 64.
There are, however, some subtle differences seen when men and women are diagnosed and treated for heart disease.
- Cholesterol levels tend to be normal for pre-menopausal women due to estrogen, but it’s very important for them to maintain that with diet and exercise.
- After menopause, the protective effects of estrogen start to decrease.
- Smoking is even more of a risk to young women than to men when it comes to heart disease.
Tobacco use by itself is a stronger risk factor for the development of plaque (fatty deposits) in the arteries and for heart disease in young women.
There is also the mistaken idea that ALL heart attacks are different between men and women.
But the “Classic” heart attack symptoms (and a few more) happen to women as well.
- Women also experience the crushing chest pain that feels like an elephant is standing on their chest
- The pressure, as if a rubber band is squeezing their heart, as it’s often described by men
- The shortness of breath
- The pain shooting down their left arm and radiating up to their jaw
These are the classic signs of a heart attack – whether you’re a man or a woman.
I want every woman to understand that if you have these symptoms, you’re probably having a heart attack, because two-thirds of us will have typical symptoms.
But, there are a few differences in diagnosing-treating heart disease between men-women that all medical staff should consider:
Women usually have more subtle signs.
- About 1/3 of women don’t experience chest pain or pressure during heart attacks. They may have isolated jaw, back or shoulder pain that can’t be explained away or nausea.
- But, one common symptom is suddenly not being able to do something they could normally do before, like walk up a flight of stairs.
- Women may also feel extremely worn out, unexplainably tired.
Women are usually more in tune with their bodies than men are. So, If you think something’s wrong, especially if it’s related to the shortness of breath with just a small amount of exertion, remember that 911 is for everyone and call.
When a man clutches his chest and says, “I feel like an elephant’s sitting on my chest,” people react. But the question is: Would we pick up the phone and call 911 when a woman’s having the same symptoms or even having the “less typical” ones?
When anyone is having a heart attack, the best thing that can be done is to open up that blocked artery as quickly as possible. If it turns out it wasn’t a heart attack, you can laugh about it later.
But the following are some serious difference diagnosing-treating heart disease between men-women.
- Women are less likely to get a recommendation for heart-attack care.
The American Heart Association reports that even at the best hospitals, women, as compared to men, are less likely to get the standard of care when they’re having a heart attack.
- Women are less likely to receive even simple life-saving therapies such as aspirin within 24 hours.
- They’re less likely to get a **beta-blocker within 24 hours.
**Beta blockers are medications that lower your blood pressure by blocking the effects of Adrenaline.
➡ When taken, the heart beats more slowly and with less force, so it lowers the blood pressure.
➡ In addition, beta blockers help blood vessels open up to improve blood flow.
Although these are proven life-saving therapies that should be given the minute it’s suspected that someone’s having a heart attack, men are more likely to receive them.
And, unfortunately, this is yet another demonstration of the differences in diagnosis and treatment of Heart Disease between men and women. And it is not right.
Certain medical conditions have more impact on women.
- Inflammatory conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are lesser-known risk factors.
But inflammation is the basis of heart disease.
However, while both men and women with rheumatoid arthritis are likely to get heart disease. The difference is that women are more likely to have inflammatory conditions.
Another difference is found with Diabetes, a commonly known risk factor for heart disease.
Diabetes appears to have a greater effect on women’s hearts.
- Overweight women who carry much of their fat around their waist – those with “apple-shaped” figures – are at greater risk for heart disease.
- If you have a Body Mass Index (BMI) score greater than 24.9 and a waist measurement greater than 35 inches, you have a higher risk for heart disease.
“Broken Heart Syndrome” (Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy) is a rare but real condition. And it’s more likely to be seen in women than in men.
➡ It is a stress-induced condition (called cardiomyopathy) that affects the heart muscle, as a result of acute, abrupt stress or an adrenaline surge.
Severe emotional stress, like the loss of a loved one, or physical stress like trauma could contribute.
➡ Early on there may be few or no symptoms.
➡ Some people may have shortness of breath, feel tired, or have swelling of the legs due to heart failure.
➡ An irregular heartbeat may occur as well as fainting.
Those affected are at an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.
Another very rare heart problem mostly affects women. It’s called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection and it involves tearing of the lining of the artery.
- It has been noted to happen more often in women in their 40’s and 50’s that are perimenopausal and are taking estrogen.
Pregnancy complications can pose risks to a woman’s heart.
- Complications that affect women during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure) and gestational diabetes, seem to disappear after delivery. But what doesn’t resolve is the increased risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Heart disease could show up in a mother within 10 years or much later. Women who’ve had these events should make sure their cardiologist or primary care physician is aware, so they can determine what screening is needed.
Women on Hormone Replacement Therapy (for dealing with hot flashes, night sweats and/or vaginal dryness) need to take extra precautions, especially if they’re at great risk for heart disease due to other complications or have already experienced a cardiac event.
For men, caution is needed if taking Testosterone supplements.
- Erectile dysfunction is actually a sign of cardiovascular disease until proven otherwise.
When a patient goes to their primary physician asking for Viagra or Cialis, the doctor should first determine whether he has any sort of vascular disease.
- If a man is taking certain heart medications like nitrates, dangerous combined drug effects can occur.
Lifestyle changes help everyone: men, women, and children.
- Everyone benefits from being more physically active, losing excess weight and following a heart-healthy diet.
One of the biggest, if not THE biggest problem in the United States is the consumption of processed food: the chips, the sodas, the fast foods.
Men and women both need to express concern to their healthcare providers about the different approaches in recognizing, managing and prescribing medications for heart-related diseases.
We are all on the quest for better health and longer lives together.