According to WomenHeart.org, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, some women reported that health care providers failed to accurately diagnose their heart attack by attributing their symptoms to other causes.
Know the facts
In addition to having a greater chance for being incorrectly diagnosed, many women put-off seeking medical attention for heart attack symptoms or being screened for heart disease due to misconceptions. Some alarming facts from WomenHeart.org help dispel some misconceptions:
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.
- Since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease than men.
- The rate of sudden cardiac death of women in their 30s and 40s in increasing much faster than men of the same age.
- A 2005 study by the American Heart Association showed that only eight percent of primary care physicians and seventeen percent of cardiologists knew that heart disease kills more women than men.
- Studies confirm a disparity between medical treatment administered to women with heart disease as opposed to men with heart disease.
- Not having a family history of heart disease does not mean you will not develop heart disease.
- You can reduce your risk of heart disease with the right information and lifestyle modifications.
Heart attack symptoms in women
Women experiencing a heart attack may have traditional symptoms, such as crushing chest pain, or no symptoms at all. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention and insist on an EKG test or blood enzyme test to determine if your symptoms are being caused by a heart attack:
- Discomfort, tightness,uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, or comes and goes
- Crushing chest pain
- Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms.
- Dizziness or nausea
- Clammy sweats, heart flutters, or paleness
- Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness – especially with exertion
- Stomach or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
When cholesterol causes plaque to form inside artery walls, the body’s natural response to injury can become its worst enemy. I attended a lecture yesterday to hear Dr. James Park, an interventional cardiologist with CIVA in Dallas, explain why this happens and what causes the need for stents.
Perils of plaque:
Like me, many people attending the lecture assumed that plaque build-up only posed a problem by causing a gradual narrowing of arteries that could, over time, restrict the flow of blood to the heart. Dr. Park explained that pieces of plaque inside artery walls could break away, causing the body’s natural response to injury to kick in. In an attempt to repair the injured area, blood begins to clot, which either further narrows the artery or completely blocks the flow of blood through the artery and causes a heart attack.
Dr. Park presented good visuals to demonstrate procedures for locating blocked arteries and restoring the flow of blood:
- Angiogram: Dye is inserted into arteries and an image taken to determine where the blockage has occurred.
- Angioplasty: A balloon is inserted into the area where the clot has formed to expand the artery and allow the clot to be broken into smaller pieces and removed.
- Stent: A support inserted into the artery so it will remain open to allow blood to flow through.
Procedures in action:
Video produced by Nucleus Medical Art from The Baltimore Sun’s Web site demonstrates these procedures.
Cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer of women in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Each year, more women die from cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke, than all forms of cancer combined. And over the past twenty-five years, it’s claimed the lives of more women than men.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with high cholesterol – a major risk factor contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease. Like most women, I didn’t think having high cholesterol was serious at first. My weight was average, and I’d been living a healthy lifestyle and eating the right foods. I felt fine; how could anything be wrong?
Prevent heart attack, stroke:
A certain amount of cholesterol is necessary for good health. The liver produces about 75% of the body’s cholesterol needs and the rest is supplied from food. But because cholesterol is waxy, it doesn’t dissolve and must be transported through the bloodstream by lipoproteins. When there’s not enough high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is believed to transport cholesterol out of the body, and too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL), cholesterol sticks to the artery walls. Eventually, plaque forms and begins to build, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and brain. This can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Luckily, of all the risk factors contributing to cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol is one of the most controllable. Many times, diet and exercise are all that’s needed. A combination of treatments, including diet, exercise and medications may also be prescribed. My doctor has determined that diet and exercise, along with certain supplements, may be all that’s necessary for me.