Women and Heart Disease: The Hidden Truths
A study by the National Council on the Aging showed that 61% of American women believe breast cancer is their main health concern. However, heart disease is actually the leading cause of death for American women and accounts for one in every three deaths.
Each year, heart disease claims the lives of 500,000 women, more than all types of cancer combined. Additionally, heart disease claims the lives of more women each year than the next 16 leading causes of death combined.
Because of this misconception, St. Vincent's HealthCare has become one of the leaders in educating women and their loved ones on how to identify heart attacks in women and knowing when and what questions to ask about their hearts.
- Heart disease has typically been considered a man’s disease. Because the symptoms women experience when they are suffering from heart disease are very different from men, there has been confusion among women and healthcare providers about the causes of those symptoms.
- Did you know that many women who are having a heart attack never feel the typical chest pain or numbness down the arm that men feel? Instead, they may feel pain in their jaw or upper back, nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. It’s easy to confuse those symptoms with many other physical problems, and, for women, this can be deadly. Plus, women tend to minimize their own health issues and put off much-needed treatment.
- Studies show that more women die of their first heart attack than men. In fact, 63% of women with heart disease die from a first heart attack – with no prior symptoms! While deaths in men due to heart disease are falling, the death rate for women is increasing dramatically. And it’s not just older women. One study found that sudden cardiac death among women ages 15 to 34 rose 31% between 1989 and 1996. The news is worse for women of color: black women are twice as likely as white women to have heart disease.
These misconceptions worry physicians at St. Vincent's. "These women are about the same ages as their husbands, but they get screened almost one-third of the time less often," said St. Vincent's Medical Center Cardiologist Steven Nauman. "This is a real problem, something we're trying to address in cardiology today."
- Women with cardiovascular disease tend to have poorer outcomes than do men. Among women, there is a 40% rate of having another heart attack within the first five years of the initial attack (compared with 13% in men). The death rate within 30 days of a heart attack is nearly double in women, compared to men.
- Studies show that women are typically treated less aggressively for coronary artery disease than are men, and doctors are twice as likely to tell women their symptoms are due to non-cardiac causes. Women are also less likely to be identified as candidates for open heart surgery and other interventional procedures; they are 10 times less likely to be referred for cardiac catheterization.
- Women’s hearts, physically speaking, are also different than men’s hearts. Though men and women experience some of the same risk factors, the impact can be quite different. For example, diabetes increases a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease fourfold, while only doubling it for men.
Women to Women Heart to Heart
Let your friends, family, and community organizations know that heart attack symptoms can be different in women and the steps they can take to have a healthier heart. St. Vincent's HealthCare's heart professionals offer a free program to community organizations who would like to host the hour-long event. If you are interested in booking this program or if you would like to attend a community program on this topic, call 904-308-7560.