Women are known to be the nurturers of the family, the ones who take care of everyone but often tend to neglect their health while doing so. And one significant fact that establishes this is the increasing rate at which women are diagnosed with heart disease and often die due to lack of awareness of symptoms and proper medical care. More than one in every three women is living with some heart disease. Each year, heart disease and stroke are the cause of 1 in 3 deaths among women.
It is also a fact, that a woman’s heart is different than a man’s and hence, they have different symptoms of heart problems. The reason why women’s hearts are different from their male counterparts can be understood from the points below:
Women have smaller hearts and arteries
Men and women have different hormones, which impact the size of the heart and the arteries. Male hormones such as testosterone, tend to enlarge the arteries while on the other hand, female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can make the arteries smaller in turn. This also makes the women’s arteries more prone to blood clots or blockages from plaque – fatty material within the walls of the arteries. Smaller blood vessels are trigger inflammatory diseases and can cause migraine.
The build-up of plaque in women is different than that of men
The prime cause of heart attacks is the build-up of plaque – fatty material within the walls of the arteries. This accumulation causes narrowing or clogging of the arteries, restricting the heart of supply of oxygen-rich blood, causing severe symptoms including a heart attack in severe cases. This plaque is formed in the arteries when the inner walls of the arteries are damaged or injured due to several factors such as unhealthy diet, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle. This plaque – a build-up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances – tends to stick to the inner walls of the arteries, restricting the blood flow and thereby causing a system malfunction.
However, the plaque in men is harder and tends to impact all three coronary arteries, while in women the plaque is softer, making it more prone to dislodging and travelling through the bloodstream to cause a heart attack.
Women’s heart is impacted by estrogen
The risk of heart disease in women remains comparatively lower to men until menopause. It is because, before menopause, the body has good production of estrogen which protects the heart. After, menopause, the risks become equal to that of men. Hence, during the menopausal years, women should take preventive steps and also continuously monitor their heart health, including blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
Women are more likely to get heart disease without blocked arteries
It is a known fact, that one out of every three women suffering from a heart problem or undergoing treatment from one, does not have any blocked artery. Most of the heart problems are caused because of poor blood flow to the heart, which is basically because of smaller arteries.
Women have different heart symptoms than men
Symptoms of heart diseases – such as a heart attack or coronary artery diseases – in women differ from those of men. However, some common symptoms remain the same in both genders. Some common heart disease symptoms that both genders might experience are acute chest pain and tightness or discomfort in the chest. However, women are more likely to experience heart disease symptoms that are unrelated to chest pain and include:
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat
- Pain in upper back or abdomen
- Extreme shortness of breath
- Acute pain in arms (one or both)
- Excessive sweating
- Unexplained Fatigue
- Loss of consciousness
- Consistent and recurring indigestion
These symptoms might occur while doing normal everyday activities or while resting and depend on the type of heart problem and the intensity of the disease. That said, it is important to know the factors that put women at risk for heart problems. Some of the common factors that lead to heart problems in both men and women are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, family history of heart disease, inflammatory diseases, smoking, and excessive alcohol. However, additional risk factors that put women at higher risk for heart problems include:
Diabetes: Diabetic women are more prone to heart diseases then diabetic men. More so, diabetic patients are more likely to experience a silent heart attack.
Stress, anxiety and depression: Mental stress, anxiety and depression are more likely toaffect women’s health than men’s since they tighten the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attacks.
Physical inactivity: It is believed that women are more inactive then men in general and hence, their chances of heart disease increase more.
Menopause: Women are more likely to have heart diseases post-menopause because of the low levels of estrogen that can trigger heart issues in smaller blood vessels.
However, these risk factors can be controlled if women of all ages become more active and alert towards their overall health. Some of the steps that women can take to ensure they are healthy and less likely to develop heart diseases are:
Quit Smoking and limit alcohol: Smoking directly or second-hand smoking both need to be avoided to reduce heart diseases risks. Moreover, more than one alcoholic drink per day should be strictly avoided.
Improve physical activity: Women should take up household chores more actively and give up the modern dependent lifestyle. Moreover, they should also indulge in activities such as brisk walking, yoga, dance and gym at least 4 times a week for not less than 30 minutes.
Maintain a healthy weight: Overweight and obesity implying a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 25 is an easy trigger for heart diseases in women. Overweight and obesity are the hosts of high blood pressure and diabetes which are main risk factors for heart diseases. Hence, women should maintain a healthy weight to ensure they stay away from serious issues.
Focus on a healthy diet: Women often to neglect their diet which is a major risk factor for heart diseases. Hence, women should focus on a balanced and healthy diet comprising essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats. All saturated fats, trans fat, high sugar foods, high sodium items, etc. should be avoided.
Manage mental stress: Women should take up yoga, meditation and seek psychiatric help they feel the need. Such activities help to relax the muscles in the body, reducing stress and the resultant health effects which further decrease chances of heart diseases. Indulging in hobbies such as dancing, singing, painting, gardening, etc. is also known to have soothing effects.
Take all medications: Most women tend to neglect their medications but if heart diseases are to be avoided, all prescribed medications especially for existing health conditions such as blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes need to be regularized.
Moreover, some healthy lifestyle habits can be adopted to stay healthy and away from heart diseases such as:
- Take the stairs instead of elevators
- Walk more and drive less
- Take frequent walk breaks between hours of continuous sitting
- Get proper sleep
- Stay active and alert