Women and Heart Health

Gender Benders: Women and Heart Health

Celebrated women’s health expert Donnica L. Moore, MD, shares her thoughts on women and heart health. Dr. Donnica has appeared on Oprah, The View and Good Morning America. She is the founder and president of DrDonnica.com. Her latest book is Women’s Health for Life: Written by Women for Women: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention.

Listen to Your Heart

Women tend to listen to their hearts, the common belief goes. Even so, we still may not be getting one message very clearly: We need to pay very close attention to our cardiovascular health.

The good news is that women are now living longer than their mothers and much longer than their grandmothers. Our overall quality of life is better, too; we are healthier, more active and more independent than ever before. Much of this is due to medical advances and public health measures, and we also know how to take care of ourselves more proactively.

But when it comes to heart health, you may be surprised to learn that, at this moment, more than 30% of women are likely to be walking around with some form of cardiovascular disease—and they aren’t even aware of it. In fact, each year heart disease takes the lives of nearly 500,000 American women.

Age inevitably causes a physical decline and increases our risk of developing certain diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. But each and every person can reduce the risks that contribute to cardiovascular disease.

How Women Are Different

There are many reasons why women are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease than men. Some of the reasons include:

Lack of basic awareness.
Many women lack the basic awareness that heart disease is their biggest killer and that it can affect them as well as men.

Different symptoms.
Women’s symptoms may be different from men’s, so women do not always recognize that they may be having symptoms that could be related to heart disease. Women, therefore, tend to seek medical help later than men.

Test sensitivity.
Basic cardiac tests tend to be less sensitive in women than in men, making a diagnosis for a woman more challenging than it is for a man.

The hormone factor.
Since women tend to be protected by their hormones (especially estrogen) until menopause, heart disease is a problem for many older women. Often, by the time a woman goes to the doctor with anginal symptoms, not only is she older, but she is also more likely to have additional risk factors, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Size matters.
Women also tend to have smaller coronary arteries than men, so when it comes to treating women with either coronary angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery, the treatment can be more challenging.

Whatever your age and whatever your circumstances, the best way to minimize any health risks and prevent many medical problems from developing is to adopt healthy habits. And remember these two things: First, taking even small steps toward improving your health is better than doing nothing at all; and second, it’s never too late to start improving your health.

5 Questions Women Should Ask Their Doctors About Their Hearts

1.    What are the results of my blood lipid tests (cholesterol and triglyceride levels) and are they acceptable for me?

2.    As a result of my blood lipid tests, do I need to make any dietary or behavioral changes?

3.    As a result of my blood lipid tests, do I need to make any changes to my existing medications? (Especially for women taking birth control pills or hormone therapy.)

4.    How do these test results affect my risk of coronary artery disease?

5.    When should I have my blood lipids checked again?


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