Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women across the world. Differences in age, important risk factors and symptoms are often reasons women are approached differently and treated less aggressively.
“Women generally present with cardiovascular disease about ten years later than men, and have more comorbidities,” says McFarland Clinic Cardiologist Stuart Christenson, MD. “Risk factors such as age, smoking and abnormal cholesterol seem to be particularly important in women.”
Established cardiac risk factors for women include:
- A personal history of heart disease
- Age over 55
- Abnormal cholesterol (high LDL and/or low HDL)
- Family history of premature heart disease (first degree male relative <55 or female <65)
- High blood pressure
- Peripheral artery disease
Most people associate heart attacks with symptoms such as chest pain, which is common for men. Women tend to describe symptoms such as sharp or burning pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and radiation to the back or jaw.
Preventing heart disease can be done through healthy living and managing other illnesses.
Prevention of heart disease through healthy living includes:
- Moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day
- Avoidance and cessation of smoking
- Weight maintenance – BMI should be between 19-25, waist circumference less than 35 inches
- Eat a heart healthy diet including omega-3 fatty acids
“Medication can be use to help treat comorbidities such as abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes,” says Dr. Christenson. “Oral contraceptives should be avoided in people who smoke.”
A low-dose aspirin may be recommended for women older than age 65.