Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterSpring 2013

Gender Makes a Difference With Heart Disease

Did you know that heart attack symptoms can be different in men and women? Or that more women die of heart disease every year than men?

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Vitality recently asked Group Health cardiologists Eva Nicholas, MD, and Tim Dewhurst, MD, to discuss how gender affects heart disease.
 
How do heart attack symptoms differ between men and women?
Most of us are more familiar with the classic signs of a heart attack in men — chest pain or discomfort in the chest, arms, neck, jaw, back, or stomach; shortness of breath; light-headedness; nausea; sweating; and abdominal discomfort that may feel like indigestion or heartburn.

The symptoms in women are usually more subtle, which is why many women often delay seeking treatment. Although they may share some of the same symptoms as men, women are likely to experience some combination of symptoms such as palpitations, vomiting, loss of appetite, anxiety, malaise, or fatigue.

How do risk factors differ?
Men and women share risk factors such as elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity, family history, and obesity. However, if a woman has diabetes, she is three to four times more likely than a man to have a heart attack. She is also at higher risk than a man if she smokes.
Additional risks in women include stress and depression.
 
Do men and women experience heart attacks with the same frequency?
Heart attacks — also called myocardial infarctions — are the leading cause of death in men and women. However, more women die of heart disease every year than men, and heart disease accounts for about a third of all deaths in women.
 
Don’t more women die of breast cancer than heart disease?
That’s one of the biggest misconceptions. More women die from heart disease than all cancers combined.
 
Do heart problems strike men and women at different ages?
Women develop heart disease about 10 years later than men unless they have diabetes. Men have heart attacks more frequently in their 50s and 60s, but the numbers equal out when women reach their late 60s. The average age of a first heart attack for women is 70.

Should men and women take different steps to prevent heart disease?
Everyone can lower their risk by eating a healthy, low-fat diet, exercising regularly, managing high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, controlling diabetes, stopping smoking, and watching their weight. Obesity leads to greater risk of diabetes and hypertension, which in turn leads to heart disease.

Does gender make a difference in terms of treatment?
Yes. Women may not fare as well with treatment because they are often older than men when they develop heart disease. Also, treatment often begins when the disease is more advanced due to atypical symptoms and delayed detection.

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