Heart Disease and Women
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading killer of women and men in the
US While still perceived as affecting more men than women, CVD has actually
claimed the lives of more American women than men for each year since 1984.
Heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions, are the most dramatic manifestation
of CVD: they will affect approximately 345,000 American women this year. While
many of those heart attacks won't be fatal, recognizing symptoms as early as
possible and initiating life-saving therapies within the first critical hours
is essential to minimizing death.
Surprisingly, women's heart attack symptoms may often differ from those affecting
men. Although a heart attack may be preceded by the "classic" warning
signs of chest pain, shortness of breath, pain radiating down the arm and tightness
in the chest, women sometimes experience nausea, fatigue or dizziness before
a heart attack occurs.
What can you do to reduce your risk of a heart attack? First, ask your doctor
for a thorough heart disease risk assessment. Risk factors include elevated
cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, family history of heart
disease, being overweight or obese, menopausal status, and having a sedentary
lifestyle. African Americans are also at even greater risk for CVD than other
races, even when all other factors are equal. African American women are less
likely than white women to be given lifesaving treatments such as aspirin, statins
and even blood pressure-lowering medications.
Based upon your risk assessment, discuss your appropriate prevention and treatment
options. Numerous studies have shown that men and women alike are under treated
for heart disease, and that women are treated even less aggressively than men.
Specifically, ask your doctor if you would benefit from taking a daily baby
aspirin. Studies have shown that daily aspirin use may reduce the risk of a
first heart attack by 32%, reduce the risk of a second heart attack by 20%,
and reduce the risk of death by 15% in those who have previously suffered a
heart attack or stroke. Aspirin may also prevent death by up to 23% if taken
when a heart attack is suspected and then continued for 30 days afterwards.
Other strategies for effective prevention, whether or not you already have
evidence of CVD: Modify your diet. Develop an exercise routine. Stop smoking.
Manage your weight. And schedule-and keep-regular visits with your healthcare
Created: 3/12/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.