Heart disease in women: What increases a woman's risk? Get the facts

Report Gokulan in Health

If you think heart disease affects only older people, you have got it wrong. Perhaps, heart disease is often thought of as a problem for men. However, research suggests that cardiovascular disease can actually affect more women than men, and can be more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases kill nearly one in three women each year. Heart disease can strike anyone, any age, and it is the leading cause of death for both men and women. So, this International Women's Day, learn about heart disease and women, and what you can do to keep a healthy heart.

For years, health experts have been studying the connection between heart health and mental health and they thought the link between them was strictly behavioural. But now, the thinking has begun to change as research shows there could be physiological connections too. According to a study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, people with mental disorders have a higher risk of suffering a heart attack. This means the biological and chemical factors that trigger mental health issues could also influence the heart health.

The findings of the study revealed that people who have suffered a mental health disorder at any point in their life tend to be twice as likely to have had a heart disease or experienced stroke. For the study, the researchers analysed people who had schizophrenia, major depressive and anxiety disorders and bipolar disorders. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood-stabilizing medications and benzodiazepine are some of the psychiatric drugs that were examined in the study.

The population is at a very high risk of suffering heart disease or stroke and the risk is even greater for someone with mental health issues,” said Dr Katie Goldie, lead author of the study.

Facts about heart disease in women

But, for women, there are more reasons to be cautious when it comes to keeping their heart healthy. One particular reason is that some heart disease symptoms in women may be different from those in men. For instance, the symptoms of heart attack in women can be different. While chest pain is the most common symptom of heart attack in men, women are more likely to have different symptoms - such as pain in one or both arms, shortness of breath, pain in the neck or jaw, upper back or abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, lightheadedness or dizziness, etc.

A report titled 'Ms Understood' and released by Heart & Stroke describes how women are at greater risk than men of not having their disease diagnosed and treated.

“The reasons for the disparities are varied. Overall, women's hearts are smaller than men's. But there are other differences, said Karin Humphries, scientific director of the BC Centre for Improved Cardiovascular Health and one of the study authors.

The authors pointed out that heart attacks are more deadly for women in part because their hearts are affected by pregnancy, menopause and hormonal changes. But, heart disease in women remains understudied, underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Research also suggests women are more likely to die after a heart attack than men because they do more housework, childcare and looking after relatives.

According to researchers, women's heart is affected by stress and depression more than men's. While mental disorders, like depression, make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, certain conditions, such as diabetes also put women at a greater risk of heart disease than men.

Simple steps to keep your heart healthy

But, irrespective of your gender, it's extremely important to take care of your heart by taking steps, which include making certain lifestyle changes. Here's what you can do to lower your risk of heart problems

  • Staying physically active by getting regular exercise.
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Avoiding saturated or trans fat, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.
  • Learning heart disease symptoms.
  • Maintaining a normal weight, blood pressure, blood lipid and blood sugar levels.
  • There may be factors that could increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Hence, it's important to know your family history.

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