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Affairs of the Heart: How Heart Disease Is Different for Men + Women

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Heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing 1 of 3 deaths each year, but only 1 in 5 American women believe that heart disease is the greatest health threat she faces. In observance of American Heart Month, learn how heart disease is different for men and women so you can be on the lookout for sex-specific risks and symptoms.

Symptoms

Men and women can both experience well-known heart attack symptoms like a cold sweat and gripping chest pains. Women, however, can also experience symptoms that many don’t realize are associated with heart attacks including:

Nausea
Shortness of breath
Pain or discomfort in the stomach, jaw, back or neck

When they experience symptoms, Women are less likely than men to call 9-1-1. To make matters worse, health care providers can misdiagnose these symptoms and leave women unaware of the real problem until it’s too late.

Studies

Researchers have studied heart disease for a long time but until recently, most studies and clinical trials were been conducted using study populations in which women were inadequately represented. To date, women have represented roughly 38% of subjects.

This means that our understanding of heart disease may not accurately describe its manifestation in women, which has implications for education, diagnosis and treatment.

Knowledge

Many women don’t realize the demographic-specific risks they face, so they don’t track their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and BMI to stay informed about their risk level. Here are a few risk factors to take note of:

Taking birth control pills and smoking increases risk of heart disease by 20%.
Major risks for heart disease and stroke like diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity are prevalent among African-Americans to the extent that 49% of African-American women over age 20 have heart disease. Despite this, only 1 in 5 African-American women believes she’s personally at risk.
Latino women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than non-Hispanic women.

With all of these factors, it’s hardly surprising that since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the survival gap is still widening.

Anatomy

Lung diseases like pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, sleep apnea and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can all affect the right side of the heart, where the right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs.

Women have smaller right ventricles than men, so a loss of pumping ability or weakening of the muscle is more likely to cause trouble.

Sinclair Broadcasting is committed to the health and well-being of our viewers, which is why we’re introducing Sinclair Cares. Every month we’ll bring you information about the “Cause of the Month,” including topical information, education, awareness and prevention.

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