Most people believe that more men develop cardiovascular (heart) disease than women do. However, studies have shown than women develop cardiovascular disease, especially after menopause. This is true of Indian women who are more at risk today than even 3 years ago. Risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is almost equal in working professionals (67%) as in homemakers (69%).
Though older women are more likely to get heart disease, women of all ages should be aware of heart disease and prevent it by practicing healthy lifestyle habits. Polyunsaturated fatty acids called Omega 3 acids have shown evidence of decreasing triglycerides, lowering blood pressure, reducing blood clots, irregular heartbeats, and decreasing stroke/heart failure risk. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish, and cardiologists recommend eating 1 or 2 servings of fish at least twice a week appears to decrease the risk of heart disease, particularly sudden cardiac death. For those who don't eat fish, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil are some of the vegetarian options. Though the evidence of heart-healthy benefits from eating these foods isn't as strong.
Menopause is another factor in developing heart disease, with the ovaries gradually producing less estrogen (a female hormone), causing changes in the menstrual cycle and other physical changes. Usually menopause occurs naturally in women aged between 45 and 55. Estrogen loss can also take place if the ovaries are removed surgically (i.e., during a total hysterectomy), under certain medications, or early menopause.
A study conducted by the Indian Heart Watch (IHW), says that 83% of women were physically inactive compared to 79% of men. However, fewer women (48%) had low fat diets compared to men (51%), obesity and tendency towards it was found in 45% of women and only in 41% of men.
Two Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD) that are more likely to affect women than men are:
Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD)- also called small artery disease or small vessel disease. It affects the walls and inner lining of tiny coronary artery blood vessels branching off from the larger coronary arteries. Whereas plaque build-up blocks the blood flow in Coronary Heart Disease, in MVD, the tiny coronary artery blood vessels do not have plaque, but damage to the inner walls of the blood vessels may lead to spasms and decrease blood flow to the heart muscle. The absence of blockages in the heart makes heart disease in women harder to diagnose.
Risk Factors FOR MVD
The same risk factors for Atherosclerosis, another heart condition, are applicable to MVD:
- Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels;
- High blood pressure;
- Overweight and obesity;
- Unhealthy diet;
- Older age; and
- Family history of heart disease.
Women with lower levels of estrogen and those who had high blood pressure before menopause, especially high systolic blood pressure, are at risk of MVD. Anaemic women suffer a worse prognosis if they suffer a heart attack as doctors think anaemia slows the growth of cells needed to repair damaged blood vessels. Symptoms of MVD
- Chest pains similar to Angina (also called Microvascular Angina) lasting more than 10 minutes. The pain may even last longer than 30 minutes.
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep problems
- Lack of energy
Broken Heart Syndrome - also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, can strike even healthy individuals. It often occurs due to extreme emotional stress leading to severe, short-term heart muscle failure. In stress- induced cardiomyopathy, the lower left ventricle briefly enlarges and doesn't pump well, while the rest of the heart functions normally or with forceful contractions. Researchers are only now learning the causes, how to diagnose, and treat Broken Heart Syndrome. While it doesn't resemble a regular heart attack, tests may show ballooning and unusual movement of the lower left ventricle. Recovery time is very quick, within a couple of days to a week, and this condition is very rarely fatal.