Article By:Dr. Imran Ali
As we come fresh off the heels of “Wear Red Day,” marking the
importance of women’s heart health, there are a lot of questions about
why heart disease may be slightly different in women than men. The
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 60 million
women are in the United States living with some form of heart disease,
and it is the leading cause of women’s death. Despite multiple
campaigns, research shows that as of 2012, only 56% of women in
the United States recognize that heart disease is their number one
killer. Heart disease has historically been thought of as a “man’s
disease.” This is partly because medicine has never included women in
research studies that examined medications to treat disease and how
to best diagnose it. It was only until legislation passed in the 1980s that
women were required to be included in studies that truly uncovered
the actual differences in how women and men present and respond to
cardiac treatments. Now we know that significant risk factors such as
gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, which is a form of very high
blood pressure, have three times the risk of heart disease later in life.
Just last year, the former president of the American College of
Cardiology convened a meeting on women’s heart health where it was
stressed that equally for women and men when it comes to heart
disease is to understand the differences. This includes the symptoms
women experience and the different risk factors involved.
So, What Are the Differences?
When we think of a heart attack, we see an image of a man placing a
fist on his chest, wincing in pain, asking to call 911. Now, while this is
correct, and even in medical school, it is taught as the “Levine’s Sign.”
Women do not present that way all the >me. It can be much more
subtle and what the medical community calls “atypical.” For one thing,
women can experience tightness and “chest pain” in the upper
abdomen rather than actually behind the breast in the chest area.
Sometimes, the pain can be in the upper back rather than radiating into
the arm like traditional symptoms. Some mild forms of acute angina or
heart pain due to lack of blood flow to the heart can present as severe
fatigue that does not get better with rest. This fatigue can also be
accompanied by dizziness.
Women need to understand their risks as well. These include
depression and stress, which are under-treated in younger women.
New research is also linking often overlooked links between diseases
such as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis and heart disease, which
affects women more than men.
Now is the best >me to take control of your heart health as the medical
community and researchers are finally understanding what signs to
look out for and what medications can address the unique aspects of
heart disease in women.
MEET DR. IMRAN ALI
Dr. Imran Ali is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Icahn School of
Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC. He is a Board-Certified
Medicine/Internal Medicine Supportive Care specializing in Geriatric
Oncology Rehabilitation at The New Jewish Home. He is a regular
contributor to several TV stations and networks.