At one time, heart disease was considered the primary cause of death in men only, and medical professionals believed that heart disease symptoms were similar in both men and women. However, science has since revealed that symptoms of some heart diseases in women differ from men’s symptoms. Over time, women began to learn their unique symptoms related to heart diseases, and heart disease is now known as the primary cause of death in women.
Heart Disease: A Major Cause of Death in Women
Cardiovascular diseases are considered the primary cause of death for women in the United States, and about one in every five female deaths are associated with heart disease. A recent survey conducted by the American Heart Association found that women are not well aware of the signs of cardiovascular diseases despite the risks. Almost 68% of Americans are unaware that heart disease is the primary cause of death in women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 647,457 registered deaths due to heart diseases in 2017.
7 Major Risk Factors
The awareness of risk factors for heart diseases is necessary for women. By knowing the risk factors, women can bring changes in their lifestyle to reduce the risk. The significant risk factors for heart diseases include:
Although the overall number of adult smokers has depleted over the last decade, there is still an increase in teenage girls who are habitual smokers. Due to combination of birth control pills and cigarette smoking, the risk of heart diseases has increased. Cigarette smoking brings changes in estrogen metabolism in pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women.
Cigarette smoking decreases the estrogen synthesis levels, causing premature menopause in women. The risk of heart diseases is very high in post-menopausal women. Women who are heavy smokers have a greater risk of heart disease than women who do not smoke. Studies have shown that for women who quit smoking, heart disease risk can be reduced in only one year, and there will be no risk of heart disease in female smokers who have quit smoking after five years.
High Blood Pressure
Common in both men and women, if not treated timely and properly, high blood pressure leads to atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. The risk of cardiovascular disease is higher in black women and overweight women with high blood pressure.
Preeclampsia is a type of hypertension in pregnant women with symptoms that include swelling and increased urine protein levels, beginning typically around 34 weeks of pregnancy. Preeclamptic women are at substantially higher risk of future cardiovascular outcomes over a period of 15 years.
A severe complication of preeclampsia is eclampsia. It is an uncommon but dangerous disorder where, during pregnancy, high blood pressure results in seizures.
Disrupted Cholesterol Levels
Disrupted cholesterol levels in the body are also a significant cause of cardiovascular diseases in women. High LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol levels are ominous for heart health. A physician evaluates the total cholesterol level by examining LDL levels, HDL levels, and triglycerides of a patient.
Before menopause, LDL cholesterol levels are lower in women than in men. However, LDL cholesterol increases and HDL cholesterol decreases in post-menopausal women. Although before menopause, HDL cholesterol levels are more significant in women than in men. Women can help to regulate their blood cholesterol levels by proper diet and exercise. In severely elevated cholesterol levels, medication can help prevent heart disease. Your physician will also investigate if you have an underlying condition that is causing hypercholesterolemia.
Obesity is another significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, particularly among women. Obesity is a condition in which a person’s body weight is increased more than the “desirable” weight. The areas where extra fat is deposited on the body are also significant predictors for heart disease. Women with excess fat around their waist are at higher risk than women with more fat around the hips. Consuming a proper diet and regular exercise can help lose weight and reduce heart disease risk in women. This calculator provides BMI and the corresponding weight status category for your height and weight.
Diabetes is characterized by increased blood glucose levels in the body. It is more common in overweight women and those who have less physical activity. Diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease by reducing the protective effect of estrogen in pre-menopausal women.
Diabetes can increase the risk of death due to heart disease in women, and proper treatment of diabetes can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Type 1 and Type 2 are the two primary forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs at any age but usually develops in children or young adults. People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to survive, as the immune system attacked the pancreas and destroyed the cells that make insulin.
In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin the way it should, and the insulin effect is not sufficient to transfer the glucose from the blood into the cells. Type 2 diabetes is more likely to occur in people over the age of 40 but is developing in more and more younger people, including adolescents.
Excessive Alcohol Intake
Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to hypertension, obesity, and increased cholesterol levels, leading to heart disease or stroke. Excessive intake of alcohol can be dangerous and is linked to numerous poor health outcomes.
You may have an alcohol problem if you feel guilty or ashamed of your drinking habits, lie about how much and how often you drink, repeatedly neglect your responsibilities, need to consume alcohol to feel better, blackout, or don’t remember what you did while drinking, or drink more than you intended or have a problem stopping.
There are plenty of steps you can take to help yourself regain control of both your drinking and your life, whether you want to cut back or stop drinking altogether to overcome your alcohol addiction.
Depression And Stress
Chronic stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and depression can affect the decision-making ability of men and women. Stress can lead to smoking, excessive drinking, and obesity, increasing the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that depression can significantly increase the risk of heart attacks and other heart diseases.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information and visit the online treatment locators.
Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women
The most common symptoms of a heart attack in women are similar to those in men. Such as chest pain, pressure, or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes. Some other symptoms are:
- Neck, shoulder, jaw, upper back, or abdominal distress
- Difficulty in breathing
- Arm pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unfamiliar fatigue
- Digestion difficulty
Why is Heart Disease in Women So Prevalent?
Cholesterol, estrogen, depression, obesity, menopause, preeclampsia, etc., are among the significant risk factors that differentiate heart diseases in women from men. These factors play a crucial role in determining the rationale behind increased incidence. For more information and in-depth learning, please visit Go Red For Women.