Much has been said and written about heart disease in men, but women are also impacted by heart disease — heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for women in the UK and across the globe.
Despite this, heart disease in women often goes undiagnosed, and many women don’t know the warning signs and risk factors that could indicate they are at risk of heart disease.
Recognising these signs can help catch heart disease early and manage heart health. In this article, we will discuss what exactly heart disease is, its common causes, symptoms to watch out for, preventative measures and treatment options.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is a general term that refers to a range of heart conditions. These conditions affect the heart’s ability to work efficiently and must be carefully managed to mitigate the risk posed.
Some conditions that fall under the heart disease umbrella include:
- Coronary heart disease (CHD)
- Valve disease
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Inherited heart conditions
- Congenital heart conditions
Heart diseases in women
Women can experience heart disease just as much as men and yet are disproportionately underdiagnosed.
There are a few reasons why women can be diagnosed with heart disease less quickly or less frequently than men:
- Women are more likely to have symptomless or ‘silent’ heart disease
- Women’s symptoms can differ from men’s — both sufferers and medical professionals may be less familiar with symptoms in women
- Women are more likely than men to have certain types of heart disease that can be harder to diagnose
All types of heart disease can affect women, but some of the most common heart disease conditions for women include:
- Coronary artery disease. This is where the coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked, making them unable to provide enough blood to the heart. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, pain in the chest, neck or torso, and light-headedness.
- Arrhythmia. This is where the heart’s rhythm becomes irregular and comes with symptoms like dizziness, light-headedness, and palpitations.
- Valve disease. This is where the valves of the heart do not work correctly. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and fainting.
What causes heart disease in women?
While there is no single cause of heart disease in women, a common underlying cause can be atherosclerosis.
This is the build-up of fatty plaque in the artery walls — where blood passes from the heart to the rest of the body. This plaque builds up and hardens, making the walls of your arteries narrow until blood can’t pass properly from your heart to the rest of your body. Plaques can also break and form blood clots, which may limit or block blood flow throughout the body.
Risk factors for heart disease in women
Many of the most well-known risk factors of heart disease can affect both men and women. These include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Family history
However, women can experience risk factors that are unique to them or that are of higher risk to women than they are to men. These include:
- Complications from pregnancy
- Inflammatory diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory conditions)
Some of these risk factors can be changed, while others cannot. It is best to speak to your doctor about how you can reduce these risk factors and manage your heart health.
Heart disease symptoms in women
Many women don’t have any symptoms of heart disease, which means they may not be diagnosed until after a serious medical emergency like a heart attack. In addition, early symptoms of heart disease may sometimes be attributed to other physical or mental health conditions.
Some heart disease symptoms and early warning signs of a heart attack for women can include:
- Chest pain, pressure or discomfort
- Feeling anxious
- Regular indigestion
- Racing heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Numbness or burning sensations in the hands or fingers
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or discomfort that is either sharp or dull and heavy
- Neck, throat or jaw pain
- Cold sweats, sudden sweating or sweating with no cause
Men are more likely to experience the more ‘obvious’ signs of heart disease, such as chest pain and pain in the left arm during a heart attack. Women typically experience more subtle, atypical symptoms and heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain.
Women may only be diagnosed, even with a serious emergency like a heart attack, if their doctor is specifically looking for it.
How is heart disease diagnosed?
Early diagnosis is important for both women and men with heart disease. With the correct diagnosis, management and treatment, heart disease may be prevented, minimised or even reversed with certain conditions.
Diagnosis for heart disease can be made through blood testing, chest x-rays, stress tests, and imaging tests like electrocardiogram (ECG) or echocardiogram (a type of ultrasound scan). However, along with these tests Echelon Health uses a CT coronary angiogram as that is the gold standard for imaging the heart and the heart arteries and should be included in preventive health assessments such as the ones provided by us.
At Echelon Health, we offer a range of health packages designed to identify heart-related conditions. We pride ourselves in offering the highest quality care from diagnosis to treatment — ensuring that anyone with concerns about their heart health gets the help they need.
Preventing heart disease in women
With any health condition, there are steps that can be taken to prevent heart disease from occurring. Prevention is much better than cure, and through early diagnosis many women’s lives can be saved.
It is important to pay attention to your heart health throughout your life and make lifestyle changes and healthy habits that will ensure your heart is strong and healthy. The first step is understanding which risk factors may impact you throughout your life. Other heart health strategies include:
- Managing pre-existing conditions like diabetes
- Not smoking
- Eating a healthy balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Managing and reducing stress
Women’s experience of various disease is different because women’s symptoms are often milder, they can arise later in the illness, and they can be unusual. Because heart disease in women often goes undetected, the damage caused can be more advanced and outcomes can be poorer than for men.
Some tests used to diagnose heart disease are also less accurate in women than they are in men. Women may experience a heart attack with no symptoms of chest pain. They may experience nausea or vomiting, which are oftentimes confused with acid reflux or the flu.
The Cullinan Assessment was created by Echelon Health with women in mind, built from the ground up to address this difference in experience.
The Cullinan Assessment is designed for women who are 40 years of age or older and is intended to allow for early detection of diseases associated with this stage of life as well as the diseases that are the leading causes of premature death in women, including coronary heart disease and more. The following scans are part of this assessment:
- Comprehensive bloods + Hormonal Profile + cancer markers
- Digital mammogram
- Transvaginal Ultrasound
- CT Coronary angiogram
- CT Chest
- CT Bone Density
- Full Body Mole Check
It is designed as a holistic experience, with body and soul in mind. In addition to the highly detailed health assessment, our clients benefit from a chauffeur driven round trip transfer within 100 miles of our Harley Street clinic and an overnight stay at The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, which includes a CBD oil deep relaxation massage.
The Cullinan assessment is a ground-breaking preventative health evaluation specifically designed for women. It enables them to take charge of their health and get an unmatched understanding of their bodies at a critical juncture in their lives.
Heart disease in women treatment
Treatment of heart disease will depend on your specific condition, the symptoms you experience and the cause of the condition. Options may include medications, angioplasty, stenting or coronary bypass surgery. Unlike men, women are less likely to be recommended aspirin and statins to reduce the risk of future heart attacks.
If you have concerns about your heart health, it is vital to get checked out for heart diseases by a medical professional as soon as possible. The earlier you catch heart disease and begin treatment, the better your outlook will be, reducing the risks of serious complications.
Echelon Health has a team of heart-health experts who can give you advice, treatment and support, ensuring you have the best possible outcome. Get in touch today to start your journey to optimal heart health.