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How gender plays a role in coronary artery disease
You may not know it, but heart attacks in women can be very different from those in men. Coronary artery disease, (CAD) is a leading cause of death among women as well as men and is a growing health concern. From risk factors to warning signs, there are many surprising differences between the genders.
It begins with physiology. Men’s and women’s hearts may look the same, but there are some very significant differences. A woman’s heart is usually smaller, pumps faster, and ejects less blood. When faced with stress, a woman’s pulse raises and her heart pumps more blood, whereas a man’s constrict and blood pressure increases.
Most people aren’t aware of these small differences, but they have a big impact on how CAD affects women. Familiarising yourself with the different risk factors and warning signs could help you to reduce your risk of having a heart attack in the future.
It is well known that the first sign of a heart attack is often a severe chest pain. However, in women more subtle symptoms can be present weeks before a heart attack strikes. Warning signs can include:
There are several conditions that increase a woman’s chance of developing CAD. Endometriosis, polycystic ovary disease, diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy can all increase risk. This is in addition to more well-known risk factors, such as high cholesterol, obesity and smoking, which affect both men and women.
Heart disease affects women later in life than men, with the average age of a heart attack in women being 70, compared to 66 in men. Why? Estrogen is known to offer women some protection from heart disease. After the menopause, when estrogen levels drop, risk increases.
An angiogram is the method used detect narrowing and blockages in arteries and diagnose CAD. In women, CAD often affects the small arteries, which are harder to see on an angiogram, and therefore can go undiagnosed. If you are given the all clear following an angiogram but continue to have any of the symptoms listed above, you should see a cardiologist.
Whether you are a man or woman, leading a healthier lifestyle is the first step you can take in reducing your chances of developing CAD and your risk of having a heart attack. Being proactive and making yourself aware of symptoms and risks can help you to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you have any concerns or think you may be experiencing early symptoms, speak to a cardiologist who specializes in heart disease in women.