Heart disease is often diagnosed late in women

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Symptoms of this disease are different in women which delays diagnosis

New Delhi, 16 January 2018: A recent study has indicated that women who start menstruating before the age of 12 or earlier, or enter menopause before the age of 47 were at a 10% and 33% higher risk of heart disease and stroke, respectively. Some other factors that were found to be associated with elevated odds of heart problems in later years were miscarriage, stillbirth, undergoing a hysterectomy, and bearing children at a young age. These findings suggest that such women should be screened for heart problems.

Heart disease is the number one killer in women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. However, the warning signs of a heart attack differ from those in men. For example, women do not have the characteristic chest pain but may have pain in the jaw, neck or back, or they may present with symptoms like shortness of breath, cough, or nausea. This is one of the reasons why women do not get diagnosed timely, thus exacerbating the condition further.

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee Dr K K Aggarwal, President Heart Care Foundation of India (HCFI) and Immediate Past National President Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, “Heart disease has traditionally never been thought to be a woman’s disease. Thus, when a woman complains of symptoms such as breathlessness, very often it is mistaken for some other problem. The pattern of symptoms exhibited by women is also slightly different from men, which also tends to delay the diagnosis. The classic pattern of angina with pain on the left side of the chest may be absent in women. They are more likely to have atypical angina, in which they could experience discomfort in the shoulders, back, and neck. Apart from this, shortness of breath is often the first and only presenting symptom. All of this can make the diagnosis tricky.”

Besides the traditional risk factors for heart disease such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, and unhealthy diet, women have some specific ones including use of birth control pills, anemia, and menopause.

Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, who is also Group Editor-in-Chief of IJCP Group, said, “The need of the hour is to create awareness about the fact that heart diseases can affect anyone irrespective of their age or gender. Only timely changes to one’s lifestyle and preventive measures can help in combating the risk factors and avoiding heart diseases. Women need to be particularly aware of the signs and symptoms and take adequate care of their health.”

Some tips for a heart-healthy lifestyle are as follows.

For all Women

Moderate intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes and for 60 to 90 minutes for weight management on most days of the week.
Avoidance and cessation of cigarette smoking and passive smoking
Keep waist circumference below 30 inches.
Take a heart-friendly diet. Include omega-3 fatty acids in diet.
Keep blood sugar, ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and blood pressure (BP) under control.
In women older than 65 years of age, daily aspirin may be considered in consultation with the doctor.
Women who smoke should avoid oral contraceptive pills.
Treat underlying depression.

Women at high risk

Aspirin 75 to 150 mg, as prevention
Control of high blood pressure.
No use of antioxidant vitamin supplement.
No use of folic acid support.
No Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Lowering of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol to less than 80.