Standard cardiac tests can miss heart disease in women, reports the Associated Press (AP).
More than 40 percent of women don’t realize that heart disease is the No. 1 female killer, with about 1 in 3 women dying from cardiovascular disease in 2007, according to the American Heart Association. Compare this with 1 in 30 women who die from breast cancer.
Although progress has been made in heart disease, a gender gap still exists. The AP reports that women tend to have different heart attach symptoms than men, and are more likely to die in the year after her first heart attack.
“A woman’s heart is her major health threat, and everyone who takes care of a woman has to realize that,” co-author of the report Dr. Nanette Wenger, a cardiologist at Emory University, told the AP.
The study outlines the top questions that scientists need to answer in order to find the best ways to treat women’s hearts and to protect them to begin with.
There is no mistake that heart disease is more prevalent in men and is also a leading killer in men. However, the overall deaths from heart disease have been on the decline over the years, while improvements for women who face some unique issues have been slower, the report from the non-profit Society For Women’s Health Research and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease says.
Common habits such as being a coach potato and eating too much junk food can be bad for a woman’s heart as for a man’s heart, just as high cholesterol clogs arteries and high blood pressure can cause strokes.
However, at-risk women can still have a serious problem even if a test of major heart arteries did not find any blockages. Coronary microvascular disease, which is less common in men, is caused when small blood vessels that feed the heart become damaged and start to spasm or squeeze shut, Wenger explains.
Although specialists “who suspect microvascular disease prescribe medications designed to make blood vessels relax and blood flow a bit better, while also intensively treating the woman’s other cardiac risk factors,” it is not clear what the best treatments are, says Wenger.
The problem is that heart-related studies still don’t focus enough on women, the report says. The lack of understanding of such gender issues in heart disease is the problem. The report says that heart-related studies still don’t focus enough on women, especially minority women.
Even though federal policy mandates that cardiovascular treatment studies include information on how each gender responds, only about one third actual do.
The report wants studies to directly produce comparisons of which treatments will work best in women, and improve upon diagnostic tests for women.
Deaths from heart attacks among women younger than 45 has hinted that younger women sometimes have a heart attack, and hints that their risks are rising.
“High blood pressure, diabetes or related complications during pregnancy ““ a growing worry as more women start their pregnancies already overweight ““ aren’t just a temporary problem but increase those mothers’ risk of heart disease once they reach middle age,” the AP reports. And too few doctors are aware that this should be considered, says the report.
Another problem lies with the questions of how to tell which women are at high risk of heart disease. Almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of heart disease report of no previous symptoms, compared with half of men.
Chest pain is the most common symptom of heart attacks, yet for women, more likely than men, other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and pain in the back or jaw is experienced.
Currently there is legislation pending in Congress that would require better study of gender differences. The legislation would also expand a government program that currently screens poor women in 20 states for high cholesterol and other heart risks. The program offers smoking cessation and nutrition education to help lower the risks.
The bill is supported by the heart association as well as Wenger’s groups, which has received some of its funding from drug companies.
On the Net:
- American Heart Association
- Emory University
- Society For Women’s Health Research
- WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease