Heart attack signs and effects tend to be different among women than among men, and more awareness should be raised regarding these disparities, researchers have recently concluded.
The findings detailing the particularities of heart attacks among female patients have been presented in the journal Circulation.
They were based on observations made by American Heart Association experts, led by Dr. Laxmi Mehta, associate professor of medicine and director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health program, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
It was determined that heart attack signs and outcomes tend to differ greatly between women and men, with the former being much more vulnerable when medical emergencies occur, in comparison with the latter.
Recently great progress has been made in curbing mortality rates associated with cardiovascular diseases, thanks to more efficient treatments and more focus placed on prevention and heart-health screenings.
Even so, cardiovascular issues are the leading mortality factor among American women, and currently affect as many as 6 million female patients across the nation.
Aside from the fact that heart disease is so prevalent among women nowadays, another problem is that unlike their male counterparts, females frequently receive inadequate health support or are misdiagnosed by their physicians.
This upsetting trend is especially obvious among African-American women, and also among Hispanics, while Caucasians tend to benefit from more high quality treatments, medical procedures and follow-up assistance.
Usually, a progressive and relatively slow process called atherosclerosis marks the early stages of coronary heart disease.
Atherosclerosis occurs as cholesterol and other fatty substances tend to accumulate in the coronary arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
These build-ups are known as plaques, and when they burst open, a blood clot appears, which can then hamper the circulation of blood through the arteries.
The heart is therefore no longer able to receive the glucose, oxygen and other nutrients it requires, this deficit being frequently known as ischemia.
As blood flow towards the heart’s muscle is either discontinued abruptly, or greatly diminished, this vital organ’s tissues suffer severe damage, and that’s how heart attacks (also known as acute myocardial infarctions) appear.
According to study authors, among female patients the blood clots tend to be dissimilar from those commonly encountered among men.
The buildups may not seem as significant or critical, but coronary arteries may actually be much more severely affected than they appear, causing blood flow to be reduced considerably, until a heart attack occurs.
Also, symptoms associated with acute myocardial infarctions are usually different among women, being often confused with food poisoning, indigestion or other trivial health issues, and therefore addressed much less promptly.
The most obvious warning sign among both genders is angina (chest pain and discomfort), but female patients also have other manifestations such as breathlessness, palpitations, vomiting, nausea and pain seemingly originating from the arm, shoulder, jaw, back, neck or upper stomach.
In addition, women are seldom aware of the risk factors that might predispose them to having a heart attack.
According to Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, cardiologist and director of the Women’s Heart Health program at Lennox Hill Hospital, being African-American is one aspect that may heighten the risk of having this type of medical emergency.
In addition, diabetes and hypertension also increase the probability of suffering a heart attack, especially among younger patients. More precisely, among diabetics, premenopausal women are up to 5 times more likely to have a myocardial infarction than their male counterparts.
Depression is another condition believed to make women more susceptible to having a heart attack, but at the moment there is little awareness regarding this surprising correlation.
Also damaging are the following: leading a sedentary lifestyle (with fewer than 2.5 hours of exercise per week), having an overly high body mass index, opting for unhealthy diets, smoking and alcohol intake (more than 1 drink per day).
Women are more vulnerable when experiencing heart attacks also because sometimes health practitioners fail to recognize their condition, and therefore provide them with no adequate treatment.
Even when medical assistance is offered, efforts made to restore blood circulation are often hampered by other underlying medical conditions (diabetes, hypertension) or by the fact that women’s coronary arteries tend to be smaller.
As a result, their risk of dying in the first year following a heart attack is of 26%, outweighing that experienced by men (19%).
Cardiac rehab sessions which allow patients to recover more easily following a heart attack also tend to favor men: women are seldom advised to enroll in such supervised programs, and when they do they seldom manage to actively take part in them.
Consequently, 5 years after their initial heart attack, 47% of the female patients either die or experience yet another heart attack or stroke, in contrast with 36% of their male counterparts.
Based on the above-mentioned observations, health experts believe that disparities between sexes when it comes to heart attack risk factors and manifestations should be more properly acknowledged, in order to devise more effective treatment and rehabilitation options.
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