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Heart disease has been the number one cause of death in women for decades and despite the increase in women seeking medical attention and medical professionals adequately diagnosing and treating the disease, it remains the number one cause of death in both men and women in the United States.
In 2007, cardiovascular disease (CVD) claimed the lives of one women per minute which amounts to 421,920 deaths per year. This is more than all the deaths from cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer disease and accidents combined. Unfortunately despite advancements in early diagnosis and increasing women’s awareness of the problem, CVD death rates in U.S. women ages 35-54 now actually appear to be increasing likely due to the obesity epidemic in America.
Part of the problem is that women are different than men. The book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” is true on many levels. It is the general perception that women live longer and men die from heart attacks, but in reality more women die each year from heart related disease than men. The difference is that most people think heart attack should be felt as classic pain in the chest or arm, but in reality, these classic symptoms are seen mostly in men. In women, the most common symptom can be as vague as feeling tired or short of breath. Historically in women, these symptoms are generally brushed off by both women and even some medical professionals as being part of the aging process, menopause, stress, or doing too much with working and balancing a family life.
As a female cardiologist with three young daughters, I realize the time commitment and stress involved in trying to manage both can be exhausting and how we as women can easily accept that feeling short of breath and tired is normal. This is probably this biggest hurdle we medical professionals deal with on a daily basis.
In practice, I routinely see women who present weeks, months and sometimes years after they have had a heart attack because they ignored the initial symptoms which unfortunately by then, they have already damaged their heart muscle.
I am very happy to say that we have made progress in understanding the specific disease process in women and there have been practice changing research studies that have paved the way for medical professionals to further understand the uniqueness of a women’s heart.
In all facets of life, we find that the predominant caregivers are women. From the nursing profession, to physicians, to spouses who care for their husbands, women have taken charge of this country’s healthcare. It is time for us as medical professionals and as a country to devote resources to combating as well as to preventing heart disease and stroke in women.
I invite you to visit Cardiology’s “Go Red for Women” booth in the cafeteria of Community Regional Medical Center on Friday, February 7 to learn more about heart disease, signs and symptoms of a heart attack, the steps to a healthier heart and living and much more!
Community Medical Centers is a proud sponsor of the local 2014 Go Red for Women campaign.
Teresa Daniele, M.D.
Director, Women’s Heart Program
Assistant Professor of Medicine, UCSF