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Heart disease kills more women each year than men in the United States -- why?

“Each year, heart disease claims the lives of more women then breast cancer and lung cancer combined. Also a greater percentage of women die within one year of a heart attack than men”.

Ayesha Shafiq, eParisExtra columnist

Ayesha Shafiq, eParisExtra columnist

Despite these facts, heart disease in women has not yet gathered much attention or concern. Two thirds of women do not even give their heart a second thought until well into their 50s. More worryingly, research shows that when younger women have a heart attack, they are more likely to die than men of the same age.

It may be because most of the time, women are more concerned about the hearts of their male spouses believing that their man is a “heart attack” waiting to happen and do not anticipate problems with their own hearts until much later to seek help.

Moreover evidence shows that most family practitioners do not look out for heart disease in female patients in the same way as they do for men.

To complicate matters further women’s symptoms of heart disease can be different than the classic male crushing chest pains. It is because women have blockages not only in their main arteries like men but also in their smaller arteries- a condition called (Small vessel heart disease).

A common heart disease symptom in women is pain or pressure in the chest but it does not appear to be as severe as it appears in men.

Sometimes women may have a heart attack with symptoms unrelated to chest pain. Such as shortness of breath, sweating, nausea or vomiting, shoulder or back pain, abdominal discomfort, neck discomfort, unusual fatigue or dizziness.

As a result of these subtle symptoms women end up in the ER much later after experiencing much heart damage.

So what are the risk factors for women with heart disease?

Though the common risk factors for coronary artery disease in both men and women are:

  • High Cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity

Yet women should watch out for the following risk factors.

  • Depression or Mental Stress:

Depression makes it difficult for women to maintain a healthy life style and follow a recommended treatment. Mental stress affects a woman’s heart more than a man’s heart.

  • Smoking:  It is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
  • Metabolic Syndrome: Women should watch out for a condition with high blood pressure accompanied by high blood sugar, high triglycerides and fat around their abdomen causing metabolic syndrome.
  •  After Menopause: Low levels of estrogen pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in smaller blood vessels (small vessel heart disease) in women.

Women of all ages should take their heart disease seriously. Women under the age of 65 with a family history of heart disease should pay careful attention to their risk factors of heart disease and should get themselves rechecked every 1 to 2 years.

It is a myth that women in their 20s cannot have heart attacks. Any woman over the age of 40 is entitled to heart health check with their family physician.

Women should exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day, maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, eat a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt and should follow their prescribed medications like blood thinners and aspirin carefully along with medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

By Ayesha Shafiq, eParisExtra columnist  


Ayesha Shafiq is Director of Paris Cardiology Center, wife of Khalid Shafiq M.D. and mother of their 2 children. She’s been the director of Paris Cardiology Center for 11 years. She holds a Masters in International Relations and runs management with the help of 22 employees.

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