Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality of women in the United States. Few young and minority women are aware of their risk factors. Lisa Freed, MD, FACC, who leads the Women's Heart and Vascular Program at Yale New Haven Hospital discusses how sex and gender differences influence health outcomes.
What do women still need to know about heart disease?
Research published Sep. 21, 2020 in Circulation revealed that between 2009 and 2019 awareness that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women declined, especially among communities of color and women between the ages of 25 -34 years. A major priority of health care providers has to be education and advocacy as well as primary and secondary prevention of heart disease.
For acute events like a heart attack, chest pressure, squeezing, or fullness is still the number-one symptom. Of all the people who have atypical symptoms, women tend to have a higher percentage. Atypical symptoms include: shortness of breath, nausea; sweatiness, palpitations, pain in the neck, jaw, or back, and unusual fatigue.
I would also encourage people to attend The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women virtual event on Thursday, February 11 at 6:00 p.m. Register for the webinar here.
For additional information about heart attack and stroke symptoms in women, visit the Go Red for Women website.
How can women prevent heart disease?
Although cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among women, only 1 in 5 women are aware of the risks according to the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign.
To address these concerns, the American College of Cardiology recently updated their guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Women can prevent heart disease by monitoring risk factors such as blood pressure, lipids, and blood sugar, as well as by living a healthy lifestyle with respect to diet and exercise. Also, women should avoid cigarette smoking. Stress management and other psychosocial factors such as depression and anxiety also play a role.
For screening of underlying coronary artery disease Yale New Haven Heart & Vascular Center offers a calcium score which measures the level of plaque in your coronary arteries. An exercise treadmill test can be useful to assess for significant coronary artery disease. Yale also offers a variety of nuclear or positron emission tomography (PET) stress tests as well as cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans for advanced cardiac assessment.
What gives you hope?
Institutions such as the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, as well as hospital systems like Yale New Haven Health have maintained continuous attention on women and heart disease over the past two decades. This has raised awareness among physicians and women greater than 65. As a result, women no longer die at a greater rate than men of heart disease. I am hopeful that continued clinical attention and research will significantly improve outcomes for women with heart disease in the future.
To learn about cardiovascular disease risk factors watch, “Warning Signs of Cardiovascular Disease in Women” with Dr. Freed.