Saturday, February 04, 2006

Heart Disease and Women

This post is to all women and everyone who loves them.

My best friend, Dawn, died of a heart attack. She was 41. She went to the emergency room complaining of chest pains a few days prior to her fatal heart attack. They sent her home with two sheets of paper. Two handouts. That was their medical treatment. A handout on chest pain management and one on stress, anxiety and panic attacks. We will never know if her condition could have been treated if someone had taken her seriously. If someone had taken the time to properly evaluate her and not immediately assume it was panic. You see she had been "diagnosed" as a manic-depressive. She was under a doctor's care for years. Why hadn't anything else ever been checked? I have a lot of questions right now and I know there will never be any answers. "What if's" won't bring my friend back. But, knowing the following information might alert someone else. If you have any symptoms, don't let the emergency room staff just dismiss you. Press on. Make them check out everything.


Heart disease isn't just a man's disease. Heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are devastating to women, too. In fact, coronary heart disease, which causes heart attack, is the leading cause of death for American women. Many women believe that cancer is more of a threat, but they're wrong. Nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease and stroke as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

Cardiovascular disease claims more women's lives than the next six causes of death combined — about 500,000 women's lives a year.

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help.

Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath. May occur with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Heart Facts

  • Heart disease is the #1 killer of American women.

  • One in five women have some form of cardiovascular disease.

  • In 1999, cardiovascular disease (CVD) caused the deaths of 512,904 females, 53.5% of all deaths from CVD.

  • One out of three women compared with one out of four men will die within one year after having a heart attack.

  • A woman's chances of developing heart disease soar after she goes through menopause.

  • More women than men will suffer a second heart attack within six years after their first heart attack.

  • African American women are 60 percent more likely to die of coronary heart disease than white women.

  • Women with diabetes are 3 to 4 times more likely than men to develop heart disease.

  • Fewer than one in ten women today think that heart disease is their greatest health threat.

  • Diabetes doubles the risk of a second heart attack in women.

  • For more information:

    Women's Health

    American Heart Association: Women and Cardiovascular Disease