Thinking Outside of the Box for Women with Heart Disease

When it comes to heart attacks, catching up to men wasn’t ever on the feminist manifesto.

Well, we’ve done it.

Women’s risk of cardiovascular disease after menopause matches that of men, said St. Elizabeth Healthcare Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologist Dr. Kevin Miller.
Post-menopause, a woman’s risk catches up to a man’s – in some cases, surpassing it, said Miller. Premenopausal women, especially those with a family history of heart disease or those who smoke, are also at risk and should work with their doctor to safeguard the health of their heart.

“The message is to talk to the doctor,” said Miller. The doctor can sort out symptoms and answer questions and figure out what needs further investigation, he said.

Women’s symptoms may not follow classic patterns, especially in young women. So cardiologists and primary care doctors “have been taught to think outside the box,” Miller explained.

He didn’t recommend testing everyone but smokers and those with unfavorable family backgrounds merit attention. That means first-line relatives such as a mother, father, brothers and sisters. If those relatives developed heart problems in their 80’s, it’s not as significant. But if they experienced a heart attack or rhythm abnormalities at what would be considered a premature age, it’s an unfavorable indicator and should be addressed.

Cardiovascular disease develops seven to 10 years later in women than in men and is still the major cause of death in women over the age of 65 years, according to the National Institutes of Health.

There are steps women (guys, too) can take to improve heart health at any age:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Control your cholesterol.
  • Get active. Even moderate physical activity results in significant improvement.
  • Extra weight makes the heart work harder. There is a real incentive to shed extra pounds. Even a loss of 10 percent of body weight can dramatically lower the risk of heart disease.
  • Keep your blood sugar under control. Diabetes seriously increases the risk of cardiovascular problems and strokes.