Every minute, a woman dies from heart disease in the United States — it is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
When it comes to heart disease, women experience unique causes, symptoms and outcomes when compared to men. In addition, certain conditions appear to increase heart disease risk in women including pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, gestational diabetes, migraine headaches with aura, early onset menopause and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr. Holly Andersen, director of Education and Outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Dr. Jennifer Haythe, cardiologist specializing in cardiac health during pregnancy at The Center for Advanced Cardiac Care at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center say more work needs to be done. Here's why:
- Women are more likely to die from heart disease than men.
- Despite outreach efforts, 45 percent of women still don't know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.
- Women are less inclined to call 911 when they believe they may be experiencing heart attack symptoms.
- Cardiovascular disease complicates up to four percent of pregnancies, and that number has been increasing.
- Women's heart attack symptoms are different from men's. Forty percent of women having heart attacks experience no chest pain. They may experience shortness of breath, nausea, palpitations, jaw discomfort or overwhelming fatigue.
- 70 percent of women ages 25-60 get an annual physical, but just 40 percent report having their heart health assessed during these visits.
- During pregnancy, hypertension is the most common acquired medical condition. Congenital heart disease is the most common pre-existing condition.
- Women experiencing heart attacks are less likely to receive the recommended medications to treat it or they get them much later compared to men. Every second counts during a heart attack — time is muscle.
- Women are less likely to be referred for cardiac rehab after a heart attack.
- The incidence of maternal cardiovascular disease appears to be growing, likely due to increasing maternal age, cardiovascular risk factors and life span of patients with congenital heart disease.
- Women's heart disease is under-researched: only 35 percent of participants in clinical trials of cardiovascular disease are women and just 31 percent of the studies report outcomes by gender.
- Death rates due to heart disease increased last year for the first time since 1993. Deaths rates have been increasing in young women (age 29-45) since 2000.
- Pre-eclampsia is an independent predictor of developing cardiovascular disease later in life. Women who have had pre-eclampsia should be mindful of having their blood pressure, fasting glucose and cholesterol checked annually.
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