If You Said Breast Cancer, You’re Wrong.
Fact: One in 31 women die of Breast Cancer, while one in 3 women die of Heart Disease
This fact is a national tragedy, and one that is preventable in a high percentage of cases. As a country we are become better at preventing heart attacks in older women, yet heart attack is still the leading cause of death in all women. For women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, it can seem as though a heart attack “comes from nowhere,” but this is rarely the case. These are the ages when the basis for a future cardiovascular event starts to become detectable. There can be warning signs, but like all signs, we need knowledge and expertise to read them.
Why Preventive Cardiology Is Vital for Women
We’ve all seen men collapsing with heart attacks in the movies and on TV: a sudden gripping pain in the chest, shortness of breath, sometimes almost immediate collapse. We may therefore assume that we know what a heart attack would be like in a woman. And we would often be wrong. For many women, a heart attack might be signaled by sweating, pain in the jaw, nausea and vomiting, and other atypical symptoms that can be very subtle. If you were to wind back to 10-20 years before a woman may experience a heart attack, her warning signs might be there, but would very hard to detect, unless you go to a truly preventive cardiologist who specializes in early detection, diagnosis, testing and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Why Are Women’s Symptoms Missed?
According to the American Heart Association, women experience subtler, less recognizable symptoms such as pain or discomfort in the stomach, jaw, neck or back, nausea and shortness of breath. As a result, women are often unaware that what they’re experiencing is a heart attack. So what happens? Women often ignore warning signs, assuming something else is the problem. There is also a misperception among many that women do not suffer from cardiovascular disease to the same extent as men,m and therefore do not require aggressive, proactive surveillance. This is entirely incorrect.
Are Some Women’s Healthcare Providers Asleep at the Wheel?
To make matters worse, women’s healthcare providers may misdiagnose these symptoms, and the result is that women discover their heart disease when it’s too late. Until recently, and even now, men have the benefit of being more likely participants in clinical trials with much more aggressive diagnostic testing and treatment.
Shocking Statistics About Women’s Heart Disease
- Women age 45 and younger are more likely than men to die within a year of their first heart attack.
- Only 65 percent of women said the first thing they would do if they thought they were having a heart attack was to call 9-1-1.
- Men are 2 to 3 times more likely than women to receive an implantable defibrillator for the prevention of sudden cardiac death.
- Studies and clinical trials have often been done with too few women in the study population – women make up just 38 percent of subjects.
Latest Tools for Early Detection of Coronary Artery Disease in Women
Not all cardiologists make a specialty of preventive cardiology. In addition to advanced and lengthy training, it requires sophisticated technology that not every practice offers. Because promotion of heart disease warning signs tend to be directed more towards men than women, it doesn’t occur to many women that she should get herself checked by a preventive cardiologist.
Catching Even Mild Coronary Artery Disease
Dr. Lee Marcus, of Preventive Cardiology New York, has made early assessment of potentially life-threatening cardiovascular disease in both women and men the focus of his practice. For example, his office utilizes such tools such as Electron Beam CT scanning to diagnose asymptomatic coronary artery disease using the lowest radiation dose possible, with the highest accuracy in the industry. He provides advanced cardiovascular detection and management along with additional testing equipment that is quite simply not available anywhere else in the tri-state area.
There’s Bloodwork, and There’s Preventive Cardiology Bloodwork
Most adult Americans, male or female, are used to being told that their “good cholesterol” is at acceptable levels or that their “bad cholesterol” is a bit elevated. This is a relatively childlike way of interpreting vital predictors of future cardiovascular health. Women, in particular, should seek out a cardiologist who routinely performs comprehensive blood panels to make highly accurate predictions of cardiovascular health, often decades before they would experience issues. Starting with a benchmark in one’s 30s, the cardiologist can track changes in major arteries and minor ones. In sophisticated preventive cardiology, individualized genetic testing can tailor the most appropriate (and personalized) treatment regimen and lifestyle change recommendations for women.
Risk Factors for Women’s Heart Disease
While menopause and autoimmune diseases can increase heart disease risk in older women, young women must also be on the alert: smokers, and those with diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or a family history of coronary heart disease are at greater risk.
Stress in Working Women Increases Heart Disease
The Harvard Women’s Health Study (WHS) in 2010 — a major inquiry into disease prevention involving more than 17,000 female health professionals — shows that women whose work is highly stressful have a 40% increased risk of heart disease (including heart attacks and the need for coronary artery surgery), compared with their less stressed colleagues. In the study “job strain” was defined as stress that combines psychological demand and degree of control. Demand refers to the amount, pace, and difficulty of the work. Control means the ability to make work-related decisions or be creative at work. Many women, whether in high or low paying positions, can fit into this category.
A large 15-year study of nurses in Denmark concluded that the greater the work pressure, the higher the risk for heart disease among women ages 51 and under (Occupational and Environmental Medicine, May 2010). And in a study of white-collar workers in Beijing, job strain was associated in women (but not in men) with increased thickness of the carotid artery wall, an early sign of cardiovascular disease (Journal of Occupational Health, September 2010).
Women Need to Listen to Their Heart – and Their Cardiologist
All the signs point to the need for women to take their heart seriously before there is an obvious need to. Establishing a relationship with an excellent preventive cardiologist can be life changing, and life saving.