While the rhythm of our hearts share a unifying beat, the dangers it faces aren’t always the same. Cardiovascular disease affects men and women differently. Dispelling a widespread misconception, cardiovascular disease (CVD) isn’t solely a “men’s disease.” It’s impacts both sexes and happens to be the primary cause of death among women.
The landscape of cardiovascular disease varies for men and women. Typically, men encounter CVD, especially coronary heart disease, earlier in life, leading to higher middle-age mortality rates. However, women aren’t spared – their CVD risk escalates post-menopause, aligning them with men’s risk levels.
Data further highlights these gender differences: women generally endure their first heart attack around the age of 72, about ten years later than men’s average age of 61. This crucial decade gap emphasizes how gender and age affect cardiovascular disease occurrence.
Despite the reprieve granted by later onset, women navigate treacherous waters. They are 20% more likely to develop heart failure or, tragically, lose their lives within five years after a severe heart attack, a risk outpacing their male counterparts.
The signs of an impending heart attack, the experience during an actual attack, and even the traditional treatment and recovery aren’t a one-size-fits-all deal. They often vary significantly between men and women.
The narrative presented by mainstream media and conventional medicine often paints heart attacks as sudden, unforeseeable events. This picture, however, doesn’t fully capture the nature of these potentially lethal incidents. In reality, heart attacks are rarely stealthy predators. Instead, the body often sends warning signals ahead of these catastrophic events.
Angina – a medical term that’s become synonymous with heart-related discomfort – often rears its head under stress or vigorous physical activity. It’s essentially the heart muscle’s cry for oxygen, as it wrestles with the intensified workload. Angina is often one of the first signs of coronary artery disease (CAD).
Despite the stereotype of angina being predominantly a man’s plight, research paints a slightly different portrait. It shows angina to be a more frequent unwelcome guest in women’s lives. Women, however, tend to confound medical conventions with their often atypical, stray-from-the-norm symptoms.
The customary image of chest-clutching, air-gasping distress associated with heart disease often doesn’t apply to women. Delving into a recent study, women articulated their angina more as discomfort radiating to the back, abdomen, neck, and chin. Men, on the other hand, remained loyal to the traditional picture of chest pain. Strikingly, most men linked their discomfort to heart disease, whereas a substantial 73% of the women participants didn’t make the same connection.
Further investigations bring to light more gender-based differences in heart disease manifestation. A surprising number of women combat extra indigestion, queasiness, and gastric grievances related to their heart disease, compared to their male counterparts. These symptoms, unfortunately, often get brushed under the rug, dismissed as non-heart-related issues.
We can’t have a heart-to-heart about cardiovascular disease without addressing fatigue, a significant yet often underestimated symptom. In men, fatigue typically echoes the heart’s strain from physical exertion. Yet, in women, the story takes an unpredictable turn. The fatigue woven into their heart disease narrative often materializes without any apparent ties to physical activity, making it even more elusive to identify.
Described often as a ‘heavy’ or ‘unrelenting’ exhaustion, this fatigue can creep in weeks, even months, before a heart attack strikes. Alarmingly, it may be the only symptom in some women. This pivotal symptom, despite its immense importance, is habitually swept under the rug. Women may misinterpret it as garden-variety exhaustion, or chalk it up to the relentless whirl of daily life. A 2020 study uncovers a disconcerting fact – fewer than 7 percent of women were cognizant of fatigue as a potential harbinger of heart disease.
These subtle, yet profound disparities in pre-heart attack signs underscore the pressing need for a gender-sensitive lens in our comprehension, detection, and management of CAD and other cardiac ailments. It’s high time we acknowledge that, in matters of the heart, one size does not fit all.
Quick recognition and timely intervention can be life-saving when dealing with an acute myocardial infarction (MI), the medical term for a heart attack. Even though symptomatology can fluctuate, chest pain holds its ground as the most frequent sign of a heart attack for both genders. One particular study reports chest pain in a staggering 89.5 percent of men and 87 percent of women amid a heart attack.
Heart attacks in women can be surprising, often skipping the textbook symptom of chest pain. According to one study, women tend to experience additional, less typical symptoms compared to men. These might include heart palpitations, stomach upset, or aches in the jaw, neck, arm, or between the shoulder blades. Interestingly, 62% of women reported such symptoms during their heart attack, as opposed to 55% of men.
What’s more, the research reveals a concerning trend. In severe heart attacks known as ST-segment-elevation myocardial infarctions, women were less likely to experience the standard chest pain.
Women are often more prone to attributing these symptoms to stress or anxiety, while men might blame muscle strain. It’s also worth noting that before their hospital admission, roughly 29.5% of women and 22.1% of men sought medical help for similar symptoms.
Remember, the constellation of symptoms during a heart attack can paint a complex, varied picture for both genders. Do not second-guess seeking medical attention if you suspect a heart attack.
- Chest pain or pressure, but not always
- Discomfort between shoulder blades
- Jaw, arm, or neck discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion or gas-like pain
- Pressure in the lower chest or abdomen
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme fatigue
- Increased anxiety
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Pressure or discomfort in the left arm, neck, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
When it comes to heart attacks, differences between women and men extend beyond symptom presentation. They can also be seen in the treatment strategies, starting as early as the ambulance ride.
A study by George Washington University has shed light on glaring inequities in emergency medical services (EMS) responding to 911 calls for potential heart attacks. The research unveiled a disconcerting pattern: women were less likely to be offered aspirin, resuscitated, or ferried to the hospital with the urgency of lights and sirens compared to their male counterparts.
This discrepancy in gender-based treatment for heart disease extends beyond the EMS response and into the labyrinth of clinical diagnosis. Evidence unveils a trend toward women’s heart attacks being misdiagnosed more frequently than men’s. In a sweeping study of over 41,000 patients, women were less likely to receive a heart attack diagnosis than men. This gender chasm became evident not only among patients who presented late but also in the physicians’ evaluations. This contributes to a heightened risk of a missed or delayed diagnosis in women.
Another investigation, examining more than half a million heart attack patients across England and Wales, found that the scales of misdiagnosis tipped notably against women. Specifically, women had a 59% and 41% higher likelihood of having total and partial artery blockage heart attacks, respectively, misdiagnosed compared to men.
But why is this? For one, during a heart attack, the protein troponin is released into the bloodstream aiding in diagnosis. However, women may exhibit lower troponin levels even during a heart attack, making it easy to misdiagnose.
Even with improved testing, however, it’s hard to say if treatment would change. A clinical trial led by the University of Edinburgh utilized high-sensitivity troponin blood tests with gender-specific thresholds, increasing the number of women correctly identified with heart attacks by 42%. However, even with an improved diagnosis, women were half as likely as men to receive vital heart attack treatments like stent fitting and dual antiplatelet therapy. Despite the diagnostic advancements, there was no reduction in the rate of women experiencing subsequent heart attacks or dying from cardiovascular disease within a year.
Navigating the turbulent waters post heart attack is a distinct journey for men and women. Scrutiny of available data reveals a worrying trend – within half a decade of a maiden heart attack, 47% of female patients find themselves grappling with mortality, heart failure, or a stroke. A contrastingly lower 36% of men share the same fate.
A 2023 study out of Yale found that younger women fare worse in the year following a heart attack than men. After a heart attack, women are frequently burdened with more physical and psychological hurdles. Take physical discomfort, for instance. Women report more severe chest pain, fatigue, and dyspnea – that dreaded sensation of gasping for breath – following their cardiac event.
What’s more, older women often encounter greater mobility constraints and an elongated journey to recuperation, primarily influenced by their more advanced age at the onset of a heart attack, coupled with an increased prevalence of simultaneous chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension.
Mental health is another critical aspect of recovery where gender differences emerge. Women are more susceptible to depression and anxiety in the aftermath of a heart attack. Research has shown that this increased psychological distress impacts their quality of life and leads to higher hospital readmission rates.
Similarly, we mustn’t overlook the vital role social support or the lack thereof, plays in shaping the recovery trajectory. Women, particularly the more seasoned in age, tend to lead more solitary lives compared to men, depriving them of the informal care network of family and friends that can be so instrumental in recovery.
Lastly, an alarming disparity exists in women’s involvement in cardiac rehabilitation programs, despite their significance in propelling recovery and forestalling future cardiac events. Women lag behind men in this regard, a gap that can be attributed to a myriad of reasons. These can range from practical impediments like lack of transportation or limited time, lower physician referral rates, or a void in gender-specific considerations in these programs’ blueprint.
While conventional treatment of heart attacks may indeed vary by gender, the approach we take at Natural Heart Doctor remains unwaveringly individualized. We understand that each person is unique, but we firmly believe that the key to treating heart disease lies in addressing its root cause, regardless of one’s sex.
This is where our mantra of Eat Well, Live Well, Think Well comes into play, encapsulating our holistic approach to heart health. Our ultimate goal is to empower you to attain your 100 year heart.
We acknowledge the disparities in heart disease and its treatment between men and women, but at Natural Heart Doctor, these differences do not determine our treatment plan. Instead, we focus on treating the underlying cause of heart disease, tailoring our approach to each individual’s needs.
As a part of this commitment, we offer a free 20-minute health consultation with one of our experienced health coaches to help guide you on this journey. We strive to work hand in hand with you, providing personalized care and guidance every step of the way.