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Women’s Heart

May 27th, 2015

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Women’s Heart

I have to admit I have a hard time understanding women’s heart, and I’m not alone in this. Cardiologists all over the world would agree with me on this matter. For example, there is a difference in men and women when it comes to coronary and heart disease. I don’t mean to discourage you, but in the US alone, over 500,000 women die of this disease, coronary disease in particular, in every year. Even more discouragingly (I insist I don’t mean to discourage you), in each minute, there is at least one woman die from heart disease. Women might be tough, but they cannot overcome this devil. Although modern medicine and technology allow doctors to treat coronary diseases more effectively, fatality rate is only significantly lower in men comparing to ten years age, not so much in women.

 

There was a disadvantage for women since it was believed that coronary diseases were men’s diseases. Women with the symptoms were not thought to have coronary diseases. Fortunately, this fault belief faded away. Not so fortunately, such belief in the past results in limited studies and information about prevention and cure for these diseases in women. There are still many unlocked mysteries about women’s biology. Studies that led to modern medicine were conducted among men, so it might not work very well in women. The medicine might circle about, but never hit the target.Women’s-Heart-1024x682.jpg

Another problem that brings many patients to see me is angina pectoris (or simply call “angina”), which is more common in women than in men. However, the feeling which the patient experience might also be different in women or women have different words to express and describe their feeling! Usually, the person (usually men) would feel tight in the middle of the chest, radiating to the arms or even the jaws. This classic feeling would tell the doctor that it’s something to do with the heart. Since women are not programmed to say what they mean, their body is the same. The symptoms could sound completely irrelevant, such as shoulder pain, neck pain, heartburn, tightness in the stomach, tiredness in the heart or even tingling in the chest. Some have the symptoms in the morning, some in the evening, some when stressed out, some without any apparent reason. Some have annoying feelings that they can’t explain, and this also annoys doctors since it can be very confusing.

See how my life is troubled by women’s complicated heart? Although basically men and women are made of the same elements, there are great differences. For example, women’s hormones can help prevent narrowed artery, so before menopause, the chance of women having this disease, compared to men of the same age, is less. As soon as they step into the world of menopause, it’s time for equal rights, as the hormone is no longer there to help. The chance of women and men is the same at that age.

A research was conducted by giving estrogen and progestin (lack of these hormones in thought to be the reason for menopause of the golden age) to menopausal women, hoping that they would reduce the risk for coronary artery diseases. The results turned out to be the opposite – many of them died of heart disease in the first few years even with these hormones replacement therapy (HRT).

Biologically speaking, women’s body is overactive in producing blood clot and inflammation. Compared to men, these activities are 5-7 times greater in women than in men.

Women’s emotions also affect their health. It has been reported that depression in women with coronary diseases could be an obstacle for treatment and recovery. Men are not as depressed as women, in that report (you may say that women are more sensitive to broken heart than men!).

So, am I just going to say negative things about being a woman and offer no solution? Of course not. I care for women’s heart than men’s. There are some suggestions for women to take care of their health to prevent themselves from heart disease and coronary disease. For those who are already living with the diseases, these tips could make their lives healthier. What I am going to say here is only lifestyle modification. So every lovely women, please !

  1. Do not smoke and avoid cigarette smoke. If your husband smokes, you might have to avoid your husband as well.
  2. Exercise moderately, at least 30 minutes a day, many days a week. If you do it every day, that would be great.
  3. Stick to heart-healthy diet, which means a lot of fruits and vegetables, grains, fishes, and low-fat dairy products. Also avoid salty food.
  4. Keep your weight in the healthy range, making sure your BMI index is between 18-23 kg/m2 and your waist is less than 32 inches. You can do so by strictly following number 2 and 3 above.
  5. If you or people around you suspect that you might be ill, do not hesitate to find the answer for early stage treatment.
  6. Check your health yearly to detect bad signs when it’s still early enough to overcome the problem. If you are already suffering from some condition, a healthy lifestyle can make you healthier.

For me, women’s heart might be complicated, but as long as they take care of their own heart, I am happy for them.

Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.

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