I thought this was a quite interesting and helpful article to read. It was a huge misconception in the past that only males or mostly males suffered from heart attacks, but now we're seeing otherwise. Girls, girls- take care of your hearts too!
Women Do Need to Worry About Heart Attacks
One minute Elizabeth Baska was wrapping Christmas gifts … “and suddenly I couldn’t breathe,” says the Seattle mom, who was 36 at the time.
Just as she had done during a similar episode two years earlier, she called 911. And, once again, the paramedics who came diagnosed the incident as an anxiety attack. But this time, Baska’s symptoms continued to worsen, so the emergency personnel gave her an EKG—and determined that she was having a heart attack. “If I were a man, I think everyone would have been quicker to realize that it was my heart,” says Baska, who now takes pulse-slowing medications to keep her safe. “I never considered the possibility because I didn’t think women needed to worry about heart attacks.”
The truth is, more than 450,000 American women die from heart disease each year. For two decades, it has killed more women than men, and the gap is actually widening as men’s heart attack death rates improve faster than women’s. Yet only a third of women in the United States consider themselves at risk for heart disease, according to a 2006 poll.
“Most women worry far more about breast cancer than heart disease,” says Elsa-Grace V. Giardina, MD, cardiologist and director of the Center for Women’s Health at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Health Editorial Advisory Board member. “But for every woman who dies from breast cancer, 10 die from heart attacks.”
There have been advances: Heart disease deaths in women actually declined between 2003 and 2004. But the lifetime risk of dying of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is still nearly one in three for women. And that’s why the American Heart Association (AHA) recently released new guidelines underscoring the importance of healthy lifestyles in women of all ages to reduce the long-term risks of heart and blood vessel diseases.
For starters, you need to forget most of what you already know about heart attacks. The conventional wisdom has long been based on the male experience, but doctors are now realizing that heart disease can be very different for women—from symptoms to diagnostic tests to effective treatments.
Two thirds of women who have heart attacks die without ever knowing that they’re having one. In large measure, that’s because the symptoms, like Elizabeth Baska’s, can differ from men’s and are often misinterpreted by the victim or misdiagnosed by their doctors.
“Most people think that if you’re having a heart attack, there’s going to be chest pain and left arm numbness. But that’s not always the case for women,” explains cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine and director of the NYU Women’s Heart Program. “Women commonly experience different symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, pressure in the abdomen, and jaw pain.” And these are often misidentified as stomach ailments or anxiety attacks, so the early warning signs go unheeded.
Even when doctors suspect heart disease and order an angiography or angiogram (a diagnostic X-ray of the heart and its blood vessels), they often don’t see problems, something that has long baffled them. But findings of a 10-year study by the National Institutes of Health—the Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) completed in 2006—appear to unravel the mystery.
WISE researchers discovered that two-thirds of the study participants with chest pain had “clear” angiograms, but half of those women had a condition called coronary microvascular sydrome, in which plaque coats small arteries in the heart rather than building to clumps in larger vessels.
“Instead of discrete obstructions, the plaque is evenly distributed throughout the blood vessels, so it’s pretty much invisible on the angiogram,” says Dr. Goldberg, who’s also an AHA spokeswoman.
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