The Silent Killer: How Heart Disease Can Sneak Up On Women
Conventional wisdom says that ignorance is bliss, but when it comes to women and heart disease, ignorance may also be deadly.
According to cardiothoracic surgeon at Saint John's and president of the American Heart Association of Greater Los Angeles, Dr. Kathy Magliato, “The most common way women present with heart disease is dead, dead on arrival. Women tend to downplay their symptoms, and they tend to wait longer to come to the hospital, and that's why they die at home."
The numbers are startling. Ever since 1984 more women than men have died as a result of heart disease, but perhaps more troubling, is that 50 percent of all women never even experience chest pains.
So while heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women, in recent years, the decline in deaths attributed to heart disease has been much less significant in women.
"We have to think of this disease as a woman's disease, it's not a man's disease," said Dr. Magliato. "The symptoms between men and women are so drastically different that what women believe is heart disease is really men's heart disease."
According to a new report from the Society for Women's Health Research, part of the problem in properly diagnosing heart disease in women is the lack of gender-specific research and insufficient recruitment of women and minorities for clinical trials in detecting and diagnosing cardiovascular disease.
Another reason heart disease is more difficult to diagnose in women than their male counterparts is that abnormal blood vessel function happens on a smaller scale in women.
"Women tend to get disease at the level of microvessels, which are very small, very tiny vessels that supply the blood to the heart," said Magliato. "Men tend to get blockages in the larger blood vessels of the heart, the blood vessels that we see when we do our typical studies for diagnosing heart disease."
But the lack of female-specific research doesn’t mean there is nothing women can do to lessen the likelihood of developing potentially fatal heart problems. In addition to mainstays like eating well and exercising regularly, the most important thing women can do to prevent cardiovascular disease is listen to their bodies, and see a doctor if they notice one of more of the following symptoms:
1. Fatigue--"A persistent, unexplainable fatigue is heart disease until proven otherwise," said Magliato.
2. Shortness of Breath
3. Indigestion, Upper Abdominal Pain or Nausea
4. Jaw or Throat Pain
5. Arm Pain (Especially the left arm)
Listening to your heart may sound cliché, but when it comes to combatting this deadly but silent killer, it just may save your life.