When we’re talking about the heart of a woman, you have to treat her like a lady.
The heart of a woman may look just like a man’s, but there are a number of important differences.
- To begin with, a woman’s heart is usually smaller, and so are some of its chambers.
- The walls that divide some of these chambers are thinner.
- A woman’s heart pumps faster than a man’s, but it releases about 10% less blood with each squeeze.
- When a woman is stressed, her pulse gets faster, and her heart pumps more blood.
➡ But, when a man is stressed, the arteries of his heart get compressed, which raises his blood pressure.
These differences are important to understand because gender plays a role in the symptoms, treatments, and outcomes of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD).
Women have risk factors men don’t have:
- Endometriosis (which raises the risk of developing Coronary Artery Disease by 400 percent in women under age 40.
- Ovarian disease which may include Ovarian Cysts and Ovarian Cancer
- Diabetes that develops when they’re pregnant
- High blood pressure that develops during pregnancy, also known as “preeclampsia.”
Women also share traditional risk factors with men:
Like men, women can be affected by a family history of heart disease, particularly if a father or brother was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease before the age of age 55, or a mother or sister was diagnosed before age the age of 65.
2. Women are generally older when they have their first heart attack.
Men are at risk for heart attack earlier in life than women. Estrogen offers women some protection from heart disease until after menopause when estrogen levels drop.
This is why the average age for having a heart attack is 70 in women, but 66 in men.
Chest pain (also described as a crushing weight on the chest) is the most common symptom of heart attack in men.
- Some women also experience chest pain, but they are more likely to have subtler symptoms for three or four weeks before a heart attack.
Warning Signs include:
- New or severe fatigue: A simple activity like making the bed can make women feel unusually tired. Even though they aren’t exerting themselves, they can feel deeply fatigued or have a “heavy chest”
- They may feel very tired, but be unable to sleep well. Or they may suddenly feel “worn out” after their normal exercise routine.
- Shortness of breath or sweating.
Women need to be aware of this, especially when they feel short of breath without having exerted themselves.
They also need to be aware of other symptoms that go with the shortness of breath, such as chest pain or unusual fatigue
- Other signs are shortness of breath that worsens when lying down and is relieved when you sit up and a cold, clammy feeling that happens for no reason.
- Pain in the neck, back or jaw. This is especially notable when there is no specific muscle or joint that aches or when the discomfort worsens when you are exerting yourself and stops when you stop.
- There can be a pain in either arm, but it’s usually the left arm in men.
➡ Also, watch for a pain that starts in the chest and spreads to the back
➡ pain that occurs comes on suddenly and may wake you up at night and pain in the lower left side of the jaw.
4. Coronary Artery Disease in women is sometimes hard to diagnose
➡ An X-ray (angiogram) should be taken during a cardiac catheterization to find any narrowing or blockages in the large arteries of the heart.
➡ Coronary Artery Disease in women often affects the small arteries, which can’t be seen (clearly) on an angiogram.
It is important that any woman who is given the “all clear” signal after an angiogram, yet continues to have symptoms, should see a Cardiologist who specializes in women with heart disease.
5. A heart attack is harder on a woman than a man.
- Women don’t tend to do as well as men after a heart attack. They often need a longer hospital stay, and they are more likely to die before leaving the hospital.
This may be due to the fact that women who suffer a heart attack have more untreated risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Sometimes, it’s because they put their families first and don’t take care of themselves.
6. Women don’t always get the proper medications after a heart attack.
- After a heart attack, women are at greater risk of developing a blood clot that can cause another heart attack. Yet, for unknown reasons, they’re not as likely to be given a drug to prevent the blood clots.
This could explain why women are more likely than men to have a second heart attack within 12 months.
So…How can women protect themselves?
It is never too late to lower your risks of having a heart attack. Here are the most effective ways:
- Quit smoking or don’t start
- Get regular exercise: at least, walk 30 minutes a day
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish and low in animal products, simple carbohydrates, and processed foods
- Maintain a normal weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Take charge of your health and pay attention to the symptoms. Don’t sell yourself short by downplaying or ignoring them.
Read, read, read and stay engaged in your health.
Speak to your physician clearly and decisively, and if you do not get the answers you need or clear instructions, change doctors.
Why Are So Many Women Dying Of Heart Disease?
Why Young Women Have Heart Attacks
(Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection)