By Dr. Ken Fujise and Dr. Naveed Adoni
Life is full of paradoxes. One notable paradox is that women, once considered to be immune to cardiovascular diseases, die in bigger numbers from cardiovascular diseases than men.
National Wear Red Day, that took place on Feb. 7, is part of a campaign to make more people aware of heart disease in women. Heart disease globally is the single largest cause of death among women. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that one in three women die of heart disease in America, and they are four to six times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer.
Heart disease also results in enormous financial and health burdens in women who survive with an estimated cost of more than $400 billion lost in health care costs and productivity, which is roughly twice that of costs associated with all cancers combined and more than 10 times the cost incurred in fighting HIV.
More than 40 million women nationwide live with cardiovascular disease, and the number of women at risk of developing heart disease is even larger. Nearly two-thirds of women who died of heart attacks had no prior symptoms and, according to the American Heart Association, a woman dies from heart disease every 34 seconds.
Only 13 percent of women believe heart disease is a major threat to their lives, and only one in five identified heart disease as a major health problem facing women today. This belief even extends to physicians, according to a study that found fewer than one in five physicians knew more women than men die each year from cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease in women behaves differently than in men. The classic pattern of chest pain and other indicators of a heart attack, for example, are less apparent in women.
Women also are twice as likely to die as men after a heart attack. These types of deaths are more frequent in women younger than 50, challenging the general belief that age and not gender is responsible for the mortality of women after a heart attack.
Fortunately, most cardiovascular disease is preventable in women. Some preventive measures include:
• Not smoking
• Avoiding secondhand smoke
• Exercising 30 minutes a day
• Consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
• Limiting total salt intake to less than 1 teaspoon a day
It is very important for women, their friends and families to know the symptoms of an impending heart attack and seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms include jaw pain, pain between shoulder blades, indigestion, dizziness and severe fatigue.
In today’s busy environment, it is easy to push through these physical annoyances as insignificant. Don’t.
Visit the American Heart Association to learn how to help yourself and those you love to be heart healthy.
Dr. Ken Fujise is head of the division of cardiology at UTMB; Dr. Naveed Adoni is a cardiology resident at UTMB.