Women do not receive timely diagnosis for heart disease

Symptoms of this disease are different in women which delays diagnosis

A recent study has indicated that women who start menstruating at the age of 11 or earlier, or enter menopause before 47 have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Some other factors that were associated with elevated odds of heart problems in later years were miscarriage, stillbirth, undergoing a hysterectomy, and bearing children at a young age. The findings have suggested that women who had premature reproductive cycles or a history of adverse events should be screened for heart problems.

Heart disease is the number one killer in women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. However, the warning signs of this disease are different from those in men. For example, women do not have the characteristic chest pain but may have a jaw pain. This is one of the reasons why women do not get diagnosed timely, thus exacerbating the condition further.

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee Dr K K Aggarwal, President Heart Care Foundation of India (HCFI) and Immediate Past National President Indian Medical Association (IMA), said:

Heart disease has traditionally never been thought to be a woman’s disease. Thus, when a woman complains of symptoms such as breathlessness, very often it is mistaken for some other problem. The pattern of symptoms exhibited by women is also slightly different from men, which also tends to delay the diagnosis. The classic patter of angina with pain on the left side of the chest may be absent in women. They are more likely to have atypical angina, in which they could experience discomfort in the shoulders, back, and neck. Apart from this, shortness of breath is often the first and only presenting symptom. All of this can make the diagnosis tricky.

The risk factors for heart disease in women include the regular ones such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, and unhealthy diet. There are also some specific ones including use of birth control pills, anemia, and menopause.

Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, who is also Group Editor of IJCP, said:

The need of the hour is to create awareness about the fact that heart diseases can affect anyone irrespective of their age or gender. Only timely changes to one’s lifestyle and preventive measures can help in combating the risk factors and avoiding heart diseases. Women need to be particularly aware of the signs and symptoms and take adequate care of their health.

Some tips for a heart-healthy lifestyle are as follows.

For all Women

  • Moderate intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes and for 60 to 90 minutes for weight management on most days of the week.
  • Avoidance and cessation of cigarette smoking and passive smoking
  • Keep waist circumference less than 35 inches.
  • Take a heart-friendly diet.
  • Presence of high triglyceride levels.  One should add Omega 3 fatty acids to diet.
  • Control cholesterol level, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Women who smoke should avoid oral contraceptive pills.
  • Aspirin 80 mg in more than 65 years of age should be added
  • Treat underlying depression.

Women at high risk

  • Aspirin 75 to 150 mg, as prevention
  • Control of blood pressure.
  • No use of antioxidant vitamin supplement.
  • No use of folic acid support.
  • No Hormone Replacement Therapy.
  • Lowering of LDL cholesterol of less than 80.
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