You likely know by now that more women than men die from heart disease each year. If so, you are a step ahead of many women. According to the American Heart Association, only 1 in 5 women believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat.
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WomenHeart Champion Marilyn Smedberg-Gobbett offers strategies for women to take charge of their health and care.
But now more than ever, with obesity and diabetes on the rise in this country, it's time to take notice. Make sure that you know the warning signs of a heart attack, that you control the risks you can, that you get the tests and treatment that you need, and, if you want, that you participate in clinical trials about women or that include women.
Everyone benefits from knowing more about minimizing their risks and getting the tests and treatment they need. But because men and women are different, women should also be on the lookout for information specific to them. Everything from the warning signs of a heart attack to the best strategies for rehabilitation after a heart attack raises unique considerations for women. Men and women both suffer from heart disease - just not necessarily in the same way.
What Every Woman Needs to Know
One of the most important things to know is how the warning signs of a heart attack may be different for women. You might not have chest pain or shortness of breath. Instead, you might experience a sudden overall feeling of illness or an unusual feeling of mild discomfort in your neck or jaw. In a recent survey of women who are members of WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease and heart disease survivors, 30 percent said they experienced atypical symptoms that delayed their diagnosis.
But don't wait until you or someone you love has a heart attack to learn about cardiovascular disease. Everything you learn about it, no matter what your age, will help you reduce your risk of having one.
As you gather this information, remember, men and women are different, so you may want to check multiple sources, including some specifically geared toward women (for example, www.healthywomen.org).
Raising Awareness in the Medical Community
Cardiovascular disease in women has also been under-recognized in the medical community.
In the past, when women had heart attacks or strokes, physicians treated them the best way they knew how - the same way they treated men. Unfortunately, women have not fared as well.
But treatment may not be the reason. Women tend to be older and have more complications by the time they receive treatment, and women don't make it to the hospital or receive treatment as quickly as men. The point is, without more research, no one can really know why women are not doing as well as men.
Unfortunately, women continue to have heart attacks even though we do not have all the answers, and it is very important that potentially life-saving treatments are not withheld for the wrong reasons. According to a recent statement from Women in Innovations (WIN), only 33 percent of potentially life-saving angioplasty and stenting procedures performed annually are done on women.
To address this problem, new initiatives, such as WIN's release of new survey and study results highlighting gender-based disparities in heart disease, are encouraging studies focused on women and their outcomes. According to WIN's report "Gender-Based Issues in Interventional Cardiology: A Consensus Statement from the Women in Innovations (WIN) Initiative," women account for only 20 to 25 percent of patients enrolled in most clinical trials for cardiovascular disease.
WIN is working to facilitate the enrollment of more women in clinical trials and to initiate and support more studies designed to explore the differences in women's outcomes in heart disease. Additionally, the organization plans to enhance resources for health care providers who treat women with heart disease, as well as educate the public about America's #1 killer of both women and men.