There’s a misconception that heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases affect mainly men, and therefore, women need not worry about them.
However, in light of February’s designation as American Heart Month, the word is getting out about the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease in women.
“Usually, women are protected (from heart disease) until menopause because of hormones, and I think that’s why there is a misconception that women are not affected by heart disease,” said Dr. Ashequl Islam, interventional cardiologist at Bay state Medical Center in Springfield.
“Depending on other risk factors, and because the hormones are not 100 percent effective, women, as much as men, can suffer from heart attacks.”Heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer.
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women over 20, killing one women every minute.
There are about 500,000 heart attack deaths in the U.S. every year.
Risk factors for all types of heart disease, which includes coronary artery disease, heart attacks and angina, include family history, especially in young family members, smoking, age, hypertension, being overweight or obese, diabetes, being inactive and high cholesterol.
The heart association also identifies high triglyceride levels, excessive alcohol intake and individual response to stress as other contributing factors.
In men, the age risk factor applies to those who are over 45 years old; for women, it is about 55.
“When they stop ovulating, that hormonal protection goes away, and they have as much of a risk as men in the same age group,” Islam said.
Islam said how symptoms present themselves in women may be vague and misleading to health care professionals.
The symptoms often experienced by men include left-side chest pain, accompanied by pressure or a heavy feeling, nausea or sweating.
“Women on the other hand, may not present with such classic presentation,” Islam said.
“They may have just upper-abdominal discomfort, no chest pain and just shortness of breath. They may feel like they have something wrong with their stomach, not necessarily the heart.”
Even when doing stress tests while under the care of a health professional, women are more likely to have a false negative result, Islam said.
“Women in particular may not have significant EKG (electro-cardiographic) changes, so therefore it can also give a false sense of protection when the stress test is negative,” he said.
Because of the chance of false negatives on stress tests and vague symptoms, Islam said health professionals may have to order further tests and consider all the factors.
“We tend to treat women with less aggressive therapies because of misdiagnosis,” Islam said.
“We must be more careful and more aggressive to figure it out in women.” Islam said treating women with hormones to prevent heart disease is not recommended for primary treatment.
He said some data suggests there could be an increased risk of stroke and other conditions with the use of hormones.
Islam recommends that women at risk for heart disease follow the same advice when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle including exercising and eating a healthy diet. source