National Women's Health Week

The risk for heart disease is now important for women too

During National Women’s Health Week each year, millions of women are reminded to make their health a priority and build positive health habits for life. When it comes to women’s heart health, their risk is often overlooked due to the misconception that heart disease affects men in larger numbers. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute.

Dr. Robert Benton, Director of Clinical Research at Capital Cardiology Associates, explained the need for women to take a more active role in their heart health, “there is sometimes a bias against working up women, they tend to get under treated because they also tend to minimize their symptoms.” After all, only 1 in 5 women view heart disease as their greatest health threat, according to the American Heart Association. “Women are the caregivers and caretakers in families,” says Benton. “If they don’t feel well they tend to say, ‘I think this is something else… I have a virus… I have things to do around the house.’ Whereas men get a little twitch on their toe and they run right in to see their doctor to have it evaluated. Women need to understand that their risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke is just as great as a man’s.”

One of the exams covered under preventative services by most health insurance plans is a Well-Woman Visit – sometimes also called an annual physical, wellness visit, or well woman exam. During this annual physical, you and your doctor would discuss your health concerns, identify risks before they become threatening — like heart disease or stroke. Dr. Benton commented that many times, a discussion on the risk of heart disease can take both the patient and their physician by surprise. “I can tell you that many times I have had female patients that have come to the office that had very vague symptoms that even I’m surprised we were able to find heart disease because the symptoms are so mild. Cardiologists, despite our sensitivity for this and looking for the unique heart disease symptoms in women can miss the boat at times without doing proper testing. Women really need to be very cognizant of changes in the way they are feeling, either fatigue, shortness of breath, back pain, upset stomach – those kind of symptoms definitely warrant speaking to your primary care doctor or asking for a referral to be seen by a cardiologist for an evaluation.”

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The biology of women’s bodies produces different risks than men’s. Benton noted that, “A woman’s heart is affected by hormones in a different way. They certainly smaller, and believe it or not, when they do come in after a heart attack we do have trouble treating them. Their arteries are a little smaller, their disease can be a little bit more difficult to diffuse. Women also present with atypical symptoms and usually later in life. They may complain of back pain, fatigue, nausea, maybe sweating. Things you don’t normally think about with heart disease.”

The first step is to know your numbers. If you haven’t talked with your doctor about your Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, Blood Sugar and BMI (Body Mass Index) — schedule an appointment this week. Your heart health depends on it.

Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist

Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.