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Women’s Serious Heart Problems

July 4, 2016 (Updated: February 6, 2020)
Lily Moran

Do you know the biggest killer of women?

You’d be forgiven if you answered breast cancer, or one of the other commonly-discussed diseases. But you’d be wrong.

No—the true culprit is something rarely discussed. Nearly one out of every four women dies of heart disease—or about ten times as many as succumb to breast cancer.

Often overlooked, it’s essential that you know the tell-tale signs, and make sure you are tested regularly. It’s easy, and these days, it’s cheap.

And of course, it could easily save your life, or the life of an important woman in your life.

Women And Men

When you think of heart disease, odds are good you think of a middle-aged man clutching his chest.

And it’s true—men suffer from heart disease more often than women do.

But that doesn’t change the fact that heart disease kills over 22% of all women. And, worse, the disease is often ignored in women.

Part of that is the popular myth that heart troubles are a problem exclusively for men.

But perhaps a more pervasive problem is that heart disease presents in an entirely different—and more subtle—way for women.

For example, men tend to have problems with blockages in major arteries. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to have problems in smaller arteries. Arteries too tiny to build up plaque, and too small to be easily seen in an angiogram.

Instead of a major pain in the chest, women are more likely to feel abdominal discomfort, or pain in the neck or jaw. Instead of a numb left arm, women can feel pain in their right arm.

And a number of other symptoms—dizziness, nausea, sweating, fatigue, shortness of breath—can be easily overlooked, or misdiagnosed as anxiety or depression.

Because the symptoms tend to be mild—and women tend to be more stoic about pain, especially after childbirth—most cases of heart disease aren’t diagnosed until damage has already been done.

I once read about a woman who was having a heart attack while she was hosting a dinner party. She shrugged it off until the party was over. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Know The Warning Signs

Approximately three quarters of women have a heart disease warning factor.

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That includes high blood pressure, a family history of heart disease, unusual fatigue, high cholesterol, diabetes, irregular menstrual periods or the early onset of menopause.

But only 16% of affected women know they have a heightened risk.

How can you protect yourself against heart disease?

First, look back over the risk factors above. If you have one or more, insist your doctor check you out for heart problems.

Since angiograms aren’t useful for spotting smaller, hardening or narrowing arteries, I suggest everyone get a 64-slice CT scan.

A CT scan takes pictures of your organs—in this case, your heart. And, with the injection of a little dye, all the arteries are easy to see, including the small ones.

A 64-slice scan means it takes 64 pictures of your heart, at different depths. Like thinly slicing your heart and looking at each layer—but without needing to use a knife or any invasive surgery.

Most insurance will cover the full cost of a 64-slice CT scan. And, if you have a co-pay, it will rarely exceed $100.

That’s a small price to pay for heart health.

If there are any warning signs, you may need further tests, like a tissue biopsy. And if you find a problem, most can be solved with targeted nutrition, or through placing a stent in diseased arteries.

Caught early enough, heart disease doesn’t have to kill you.

Pay Attention To The Symptoms

That brings me to the most important point. Don’t shrug off symptoms! Even if—or especially if—your doctor isn’t taking your complaints seriously.

If you are getting tired more easily, and getting dizzy, don’t assume it’s nothing serious. A CT scan is cheap, and could save your life. There’s no reason to be tough. You are only, potentially, hurting yourself.

These are all things to discuss with your doctor. The most important thing for you is to know your own risk factors, know the warning signs, and don’t ignore them.

Holding your tongue helps no one. While speaking up can literally save your life. It’s an easy choice.

References

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