Medically Reviewed by Nicolette Naso, MD
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in South Carolina. Heart disease and stroke account for nearly 28% of women’s deaths in South Carolina. To put it on a more personal, understandable level – about 15 women die EVERY DAY in South Carolina from heart disease and stroke.
These statistics alone show the serious impact of heart disease on women in our home state and hometown. While cardiac issues are often considered “men’s diseases,” recent statistics show that at least as many women as men die from coronary artery disease.
“Complicating the issue for women is that they are less likely to receive advice on preventing heart attacks. Plus, their symptoms may be different from men,” says McLeod Cardiologist Dr. Nicolette Naso. “Trends show that coronary artery disease (the clogging of arteries) among men has declined 30% in the last decade, while it has increased among women under age 55.”
Risk Factors. Some risk factors are equally important for both genders. They include smoking, family history of heart disease, diabetes, and lack of regular exercise.
Excess weight (obesity) increases the coronary artery risk by 46% for men, but by 64% for women. Women also appear to have a significant increase in risk after the age of 60. Men’s risk does increase with age, but not as much.
Symptoms. Men often describe the feeling of “an elephant sitting on my chest” as the primary symptom of a heart attack. It may also be true in women. Yet, woman might not experience this symptom at all. More than 4 out of 10 women suffering a heart attack report NO chest pain before or during the episode.
Women can experience “flu-like” symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, sweating or simply shortness of breath without exercise. Discomfort in arms, back, neck, stomach or jaw are also symptoms that women may experience.
Because the symptoms of heart attack and disease are subtler in women than men, women are less likely to seek medical help immediately. Delayed treatment increases the risk of serious after effects for women, including death. Women under 50, who have a heart attack, are twice as likely to die as men.
Final Thought. Listen to your body. Don’t ignore less dramatic symptoms women experience. When in doubt, see your personal physician or a cardiologist.
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Sources: McLeod Health; Journal of the World Heart Federation; US Center for Disease Control; About.com; JAMA Internal Medicine online; SheKnows, LLC.