NO PHOTO AVAILABLE   I found zero photos of a woman having a heart attack vs. endless photos of men having heart attacks.  That says a lot about why women don’t realize our danger from heart attack.

In total, cardiovascular disease claims the lives of 7% more US women than men.

It claims the lives of more than 20 times as many women as does breast cancer in a year (420,000 vs. 39,500).

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it kills one in every three women, more than women’s combined deaths from all cancers, chronic respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s and accidents.

Though far fewer women than men have heart attacks, nearly as many women as men die from them.

A couple of decades ago, women had a higher death rate than men during heart surgery because surgeons were using the same larger surgery instruments on women’s smaller hearts that they used on men’s larger hearts.  That rather obvious oversight has been corrected in most cases, but not in all.

Still, today women are twice as likely to die during or soon after surgery, largely because we delay getting medical help because we don’t know that the indicators of our having a heart attack differ from a man’s indicators of a heart attack.

Though chest pain is the most common symptom for both men and women, more women, especially in middle age, don’t have this symptom.

Instead, our first symptom is unusual fatigue, acute anxiety, shortness of breath, pounding heartbeat, nausea, and/or pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, back or ear.

Another contributing factor is that we have our first heart attacks at an age considerably older than men having a first attack and are therefore generally more susceptible to death than we would have been had we had the attack at an earlier age.

NB:  A significant number of US women under 54 years of age have heart attacks; Rosie O’Donnell had one last August at age 50.   While the incidence of death in men under 54 has been dropping, the incidence of death among women under 54 is rising, probably because more younger women are obese and have diabetes and also because of the existing gender gap in recognizing and treating heart disease.

It’s of critical importance that women learn how to protect our cardiovascular health and consult with our health care providers (educating them, if necessary) about our risk factors and appropriate strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease.

You may want to assess your 10-year risk of having a heart attack based on your age, gender, cholesterol levels and blood pressure at the government’s National Cholesterol Education Program at  http://www.tinyurl.com/risktool

SOURCE:  University of CA, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Special Winter Issue, 2012

Coming up:  7 Heart-healthy Tips for Women  But wait–there’s more!

Followed by:  7 More Heart-healthy Tips for Women 


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