So it is that day of the year again, the International Women’s’ Day and we see whole of print, electronic and social media full of congratulatory messages to what I believe is the better half of humankind! And here are a few facts and cautions to them to help them cope up with one of the biggest health issues, heart disease.
Heart diseases are now the leading cause of fatalities in men and women world over and also in India. The risk of heart diseases to both sexes is high, but heart diseases affect men and women differently. Over one crore annual deaths are reported in India and cardiovascular diseases cause 20.3% deaths in men and 16.9 % deaths in women.
Each year more women die of heart disease than men, yet heart disease and related risk factors are often overlooked in women. Symptoms of coronary artery disease and heart attack, for example, are often different in women than men.
Heart disease risk factors for women:
Although several traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — affect women and men, other factors may play a greater role in the development of heart disease in women. For example, risk factors may include:
- Women with diabetes are at higher risk of heart disease than are men with diabetes.
- Mental stress and depression. Women’s hearts are affected by stress and depression more than men’s.
- In women, smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than it is in men.
- A lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease, and some research has found women to be more inactive than men.
- Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels.
- Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy for cancer. Some chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapies, such as those used to treat breast cancer, may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Pregnancy complications. High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase women’s long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes and increase the risk of development of heart disease in mothers.
So what is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. It develops when your coronary arteries, which are fuel lines to supply blood and oxygen to the heart, become damaged or diseased.
When your coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked, it means there is less blood flow to the heart; in some cases, atherosclerotic plaque can rupture and blood flow is abruptly and completely blocked. CAD can lead to:
- Chest pain (angina)
- Heart Attack or Myocardial infraction
- Breathlessness on exertion/ heart failure
- Heart Rhythm problems manifesting as palpitations
Women tend to have different and more subtle symptoms and are treated less aggressively compared to men.
What can women do to reduce the risk of heart disease?
Women can make several lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of heart disease, such as:
- Quit or don’t start smoking.
- Regular Exercise.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid saturated or trans fat, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.
Remember a woman’s lifetime risk of dying from heart disease is eight times greater than that of breast cancer!
If you’re like most women, you’re probably so busy taking care of everyone else, your own wellbeing and health tends to fall last. But you need to make your heart’s health a priority and encourage others to do the same.
Happy International Women’s’ Day 8th March 2019!
Dr.Debasis Das | Cardiac Surgeon | Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Howrah