Matters of the Heart: Heart Disease in Women Versus Men

By: Cindy Peters, RN, MSN, ACNP, nurse practitioner, Center for Women’s Cardiac Health

When a woman is asked about her no. 1 health concern, many will say breast cancer. The fact is heart disease is the no. 1 killer of women. Too often thought of as a “man’s disease,” heart disease in women is on the rise.

Until recently, women’s heart disease treatment was based on medical research performed on men. The physical differences between men and women are obvious, but few people know that men and women have different hearts. Coronary Microvascular Disease (CMD) affects the heart's tiny arteries and is more prevalent in women. Many researchers think that a drop in estrogen levels during menopause combined with other heart disease risk factors causes CMD in women. Due to the smaller arteries in women, treatment options available to men, like implanting a stent (a small mesh tube that's used to treat narrow or weak arteries), may not be available to women.

Men and women have similar heart disease risk factors, but some symptoms of a heart attack may appear differently. While men have the more traditional symptoms such as chest pain or heart palpitations, women suffer from symptoms such as back pain, jaw pain, fatigue and soreness in their shoulders or arms. These symptoms of a heart attack in women are often ignored or blamed on other causes. It is important to pay attention to these symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if you are concerned.

Before symptoms occur, know your unique risk factors to prevent or reduce the risk of developing heart disease. The Center for Women’s Cardiac Health & Research, part of the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial, offers private, personalized consultations with a cardiology nurse practitioner. The $55 heart screening includes a 12-lead electrocardiogram; cholesterol and blood sugar testing; blood pressure, weight and body mass index calculations; and a review of your eating habits and activity choices.

To schedule a screening, call 562.933.2460.

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