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Heart disease is as common in women as it is in men. So why aren’t women protecting themselves?
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death among women globally and in the UAE. It is also one of the most preventable. So why is so little known about the threat and why aren’t more women acting to protect themselves?
A recent UAE study* commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi found that awareness of heart disease – the underlying cause of most heart attacks – in women is very low. When surveyed, 82% of women said that they did not know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the region.
We often think that heart disease is an issue only for men. Women may worry about male relatives and urge them to look after their hearts, but when it comes to themselves, they don’t feel it is a concern and are unknowingly putting themselves at risk.
Women may worry about cancer, their weight and other female health issues and will proactively seek medical advice and attention for these concerns. Women are also very good at putting others before themselves, they lead busy lives, may be scared, or simply don’t think heart disease will happen to them. But by avoiding the issue, they are putting themselves at risk. In fact, 59% of the women surveyed stated that they had not discussed heart health with their doctor in the last year.
So, what can you do to make heart health a priority and potentially protect yourself from cardiac disease?
Most of us know that maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and cutting back on fatty foods is a good step towards a healthy heart. However, when surveyed, 35% of women didn’t realize that there are risk factors that are unique to women, which may explain why they are ignoring them. Only 24% of the women questioned knew that high blood pressure poses a much higher risk in women than it does in men. Endometriosis, polycystic ovary disease and high blood pressure during pregnancy can also increase your chances of developing heart disease.
Women may be ignoring their hearts because they simply don’t know it needs attention. Not all heart attacks are the same and heart disease can present itself differently in men and women. When surveyed, 76% of women didn’t know that heart attacks affect men and women differently and 69% did not associate some of the common female-only warning signs as a cause for concern.
Many early warnings of a heart attack are well known, like severe, sharp pain in the chest and left arm. However, in women the pain can be felt in either arm, the neck, back or jaw. There are also several early, more subtle warning signs in women which often go ignored. A sudden, dramatic fatigue, an unexplained shortness of breath and cold, clammy sweating can all be early indicators and shouldn’t be ignored.
Early warning signs are often missed and risk factors are overlooked because they aren’t talked about. Women sometimes skip preventative health exams like blood pressure screenings and yearly check-ups, which means they aren’t getting important advice from their physicians. This may be down to embarrassment, fear, stigma, or simply because it is low on their list of things to do. However, preventative screenings and talking to your doctor about your heart health are simple ways of proactively catching an issue before it becomes a problem.
Making simple changes to your overall health can have a huge impact on your chances of developing heart disease. But proactively taking further steps to educate yourself on the risk factors, the early warning signs and prioritizing regular check-ups for your heart could prevent it from happening altogether.
*UAE survey commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, and carried out by YouGov in February 2020.
Rates are high, but the risk can be reduced with lifestyle changes.Learn More