The world tends to think of cardiovascular diseases as being something of a male problem, which women don’t have to worry about as much. However, what women need to know about heart disease is that it is the number 1 killer of women as well, and that women need to be as careful about it as men.
Cardiovascular diseases are often misdiagnosed in women
Many women and also their doctors are not aware that heart disease is the number 1 killer of women. This is why women tend to ignore symptoms that they may feel, and doctors tend to misdiagnose those same symptoms as some other ailment.
There is also the fact that women tend to have cardiovascular diseases later in life than men. Women may also have other ailments such as osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, arthritis.
Due to this, the symptoms of heart disease in women tend to get masked and are not recognized as such.
Many of the symptoms that women may experience may be dismissed as indigestion or being out of shape.
Doctors also may chalk those symptoms down to anxiety instead of what they are really caused by.
Because of this, a woman’s heart problems often remain unknown and untreated, often escalating and spiraling out of control to the point where they may cause more lasting damage and even death. For all of these reasons, women are less likely than men to survive heart attacks.
How the symptoms of cardiovascular diseases may differ in women
Whereas men suffer from what we readily recognize as symptoms of heart problems, such as chest pain, women often have no chest pain at all. The symptoms that women have are often non-specific or diffuse and rather different from symptoms traditionally associated with heart attacks.
Women with cardiovascular disease tend to complain of unexplained fatigue or shortness of breath. Rather than chest pain, they may experience a feeling of fullness or pressure in the chest area.
There could be burning sensations in the shoulders, arms or back and feelings that can be mistaken for indigestion.
Heart palpitations where the heartbeat seems too fast or seems to be irregular also could be among the symptoms.
Many women experience nausea, and vomiting or they may feel lightheaded or dizzy.
Risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in women
To catch heart disease in time, women need to be aware of their own risk factors for developing the disease.
Family history is a predictor of a woman’s own risk of having a heart attack. If women in the family have had a heart attack when younger than 60 or men in the family have had a heart attack when younger than 50 years of age the risk is said to be high.
Smoking is a significant risk factor, and studies have shown that women who smoke will experience a heart attack about 19 years earlier than if they did not smoke. Other lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, and having an unhealthy diet also put a woman at higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Being overweight or obese also increases risk among women, particularly women who tend to carry a lot of weight around their abdomen (research has shown that the apple shaped woman is more at risk than the pear shaped woman).
Health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol or triglyceride levels also put woman at higher risk of having cardiac disease.
Stress is another risk factor that women should look at. Prolonged and excessive stress is a known risk factor for heart disease, as are other factors such as social isolation, mental problems such as depression.
Why cardiovascular diseases may be more dangerous for women
As we saw above, women show signs of heart problems differently than men and that they are more likely to be misdiagnosed which makes women more likely to die from a heart attack than men.
However there are other reasons that put women at greater risk of cardiovascular diseases: women often tend to downplay their own discomforts which can delay start of treatment. Some experts also feel that the fact that women have smaller hearts and blood vessels makes it more likely that they will suffer lasting damage.