Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. However, women sometimes experience heart disease differently than men, which can delay diagnosis and care.
Additionally, women are less likely to get help during a cardiac arrest emergency according to a study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
Education and training can help with the awareness needed to increase the response rate for everyone.
How women’s health impacts their risk for heart disease
Because heart disease symptoms can present differently in women, diagnosis and treatment can be delayed. So, it’s important for women and men to understand the differences in risk factors to better serve ourselves and the women in our lives.
While men and women have many attributes in common, hormonal and anatomical differences can impact a woman’s risk for heart disease.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) details that hormonal changes after menopause (resulting in a drop in estrogen levels) increases a woman’s risk for heart disease. The size and structure of the heart can also increase risk because a woman’s heart and blood vessels are typically smaller, and the muscular walls are thinner than a man’s heart. Additionally, women are more likely to have nonobstructive coronary heart disease or coronary microvascular disease, which are more difficult to diagnose.
Women are also more likely to have medical conditions or life issues that increase their risk for heart disease, including:
Anemia (especially during pregnancy)
Early menopause (before age 40)
High blood pressure after age 65
History of problems during pregnancy (e.g. gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, eclampsia, premature birth, etc.)
Hormonal birth control
Inflammatory and autoimmune diseases
Lack of physical activity
Mental health issues (e.g. stress, marital stress, anxiety, depression or low social support)
Overweight and obesity
Risk factors such as diabetes, low levels of HDL cholesterol, mild to moderate high blood pressure and smoking can also play a more significant role in heart disease in women compared to men.
Bottom line: Take heart disease risk seriously
Heart disease is often thought of as a “man’s disease”. But every woman (and the people who care about her) should take heart disease risk seriously.
Here are some quick resources to explore related to women and heart disease:
Keep an eye out for next week’s blog focused on ways to improve outcomes for women.
For training on how to help anyone in an emergency, find a training center near you.