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Sweating. Uncomfortable pressure. Nausea. neck or jaw pain. Believe it or not, these are all symptoms of a heart attack in women. Sound like typical flu symptoms? Or maybe it sounds like stress to you? Whether it’s disbelief or lack of awareness, dismissing the symptoms of a heart attack can delay critical, life-saving actions. Being able to recognize the warning signs and act quickly, however, can save your life or the life of someone you love – your wife, daughter, mother or a friend.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in women today in the United States and that’s why we support American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative. Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that in the year 2009, 1 in 4 deaths were related to heart disease. Growing up I got used to that inevitability that men get heart disease and women live forever. That, however, turns out not to be the case. An equal amount of men and women die from heart disease each year and that, to me, is very surprising. I am a firm believer that women are not only smarter; they are designed more for longevity and durability, and thus have a tendency to outlive us guys. As a result we tend to see women present with heart disease at a later age.
It is likely due to the longer lifespan that the burden of heart disease and stroke among women is equal to that of men. Unfortunately even with increasing awareness and resources being directed at heart disease and stroke in women, we as a nation have been unable to change the perception that these diseases predominate in men. As a practicing cardiologist I see plenty of heart disease in women. I’d wager that at least 40-50% of the patients I’ve taken to the catheterization lab this year are women.
What I find lacking in the medical literature and research that is conducted today is an understanding that women may have more “unique” presentations and patterns of heart disease and stroke. There has been a significant effort to identify variations of typical presentations of acute coronary syndromes in different ethnic populations, but not as much when it comes to the female gender. That’s not to say that we aren’t making some progress however. I do believe that we are becoming better at recognizing acute manifestations of heart disease and stroke in women and also better identifying heart diseases that do in fact predominate in women (i.e. Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy or “Broken Heart Syndrome”).
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.
To that end, I would invite you to visit Community Regional Medical Center’s Cardiology and Neuroscience departments’ “Go Red for Women” booth in the cafeteria on Friday, February 1, 2013, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Learn about heart disease, risk factors and heart healthy nutrition, and help us spread a “live longer” message to your family and friends by participating in a Go Red Photogram. So in the spirit of bringing awareness – get involved and don’t forget to wear red!
Cyrus Fram Buhari, DO, MSBME
Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine,
UCSF Fresno Medicine Education Program
VA Central California Healthcare System