Women and Heart Disease
By Dale Petersen MD –
Among other things February is American heart month. The first week is designated National Women’s Heart Week. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, with one out of four women dying of heart disease.
Heart attacks are the most common type of heart disease. A heart attack occurs when an artery supplying blood to the heart becomes blocks. The area of the heart muscle supplied by the artery will die if blood flow is not restored quickly. Best results are obtained if the blockage is cleared within 2 hours.
I have seen many articles suggesting that heart attack symptoms are different in women than in men, yet when the symptoms are listed they are virtually the same in both sexes. I believe that the reason heart attacks are missed in women is that the symptoms are more likely to be ignored or attributed to another cause.
The most common heart attack symptom in women as well as in men is chest pain or discomfort, often described as having an elephant sitting on one’s chest. Many people having a heart attack will break out in a cold sweat. This is not the only manner in which a heart attack may present, however. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest may occur. Alternatively, pain or discomfort may present in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Shortness of breath may appear with or without chest pain. Many people experience what they believe to be indigestion. Nausea and lightheadedness may occur.
Because time is precious when a heart attack is occurring medical attention should be sought immediately if any symptoms suggestive of a heart attack appear. It is far better to have the presence of indigestion confirmed than to discover too late that it was really a heart attack in progress.
For reasons that are unclear, women are more likely to develop a condition called coronary microvascular disease (MVD). Unlike coronary artery disease, in which plaque builds up in main heart arteries and heart attacks may occur, MVD is characterized by narrowing or tightening of the tiniest arteries in the heart. This can adversely affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. Symptoms of MVD are similar to those of large vessel disease and include chest pain or discomfort, chest pain along with discomfort in an arm or the jaw, chest pain that worsens with daily activities and at times of emotional stress, neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, loss of energy and trouble sleeping.
If MVD is suspected supports that help the heart muscle produce energy more effectively are very helpful. Coenzyme Q10 and L-carnitine are substances that help the heart muscle to produce energy more efficiently and compensate for reduced blood flow.
Women are also more likely than men to develop stress-related cardiomyopathy, which is referred to as broken heart syndrome. This is a condition in which the chamber of the heart that pumps blood to the body is weakened due to intense physical or emotional stress. It is characterized by a rapid onset and gradual improvement over time. As in the case of MVD, supplementation of coenzyme Q10 and L-carnitine can bring about a faster and more complete recovery.
Women do develop heart disease. The major difference between men and women is that heart disease tends to appear a decade later in women. It’s important for women as well as men to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease and seek evaluation and treatment when they occur.
Dr. Dale Peterson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Medicine. He completed his residency in FamilyMedicine at the University of Oklahoma. He is a past president of the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians. He had a full-time family practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, for over 20 years and was a Chief of Staff of the Edmond Hospital. He was active in teachingfor many years as a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine through the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.
Dr. Peterson left his full-time family practice in 1999 to consult with individuals who are seeking ways to restore and maintain their health through improved nutrition and other lifestyle changes. He founded the Wellness Clubs of America to give people access to credible information on supporting and maintaining their health. His monthly wellness letter, Health by Design, and his Health by Design E-Newsletter provide helpful information to individuals interested in preventing and conquering health challenges. He is the author of Building Health by Design: Adding Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life .
Dr. Peterson speaks regularly on subjects related to health and nutrition. He hosted a weekly radio program,Your Health Matters, on KTOK in Oklahoma City for five years. For the past nine years he has addressed questions from across the nation on his Your Health Matters weekly teleconference.He offers a free video LifeXtension course at www.drdalepeterson.com.