It’s my cardiac anniversary week! Here are some things about women and heart disease that I’ve learned since I was hospitalized following a heart attack on May 6, 2008.
- heart attacks are more deadly for women than for men
- heart attack symptoms can be more subtle for women
- heart research focuses on men, not women
- for women, depression and heart disease are strongly linked
- heart damage starts in your 20s (25-45 is the age coronary disease typically starts)
A woman’s heart weighs about 118 grams, similar to a green pepper, and hollow with interior chambers like a pepper. A man’s heart weighs 50% more, making it easier for cardiologists to work with. In fact, when cardiac stents were first invented, they were too large to implant in women’s coronary arteries. Women usually have lower blood pressure than men, and women’s hearts beat faster, even when they are asleep.
Researchers from Columbia University and New York Presbyterian Hospital believe that women also have a different intrinsic rhythmicity to the pacemaker of their hearts, which causes them to beat faster.
These same researchers believe that it may take a woman’s heart longer to relax after each beat. Some surgeons also tell us that the fact that women have a 50% greater chance of dying during heart surgery than men could be related to some fundamental difference in women’s the way women’s hearts work. These differences may also account for the fact that women are more likely than men to die after their first heart attack.
Cardiac diagnostic tests may be less accurate in identifying heart disease in women. The treadmill stress test, or stress EKG, may be less accurate in women. For example, in young women with a low likelihood of coronary heart disease, an exercise stress test may give a false positive result. In contrast, single-vessel heart disease, which is more common in women than in men, may not be picked up at all on a routine treadmill test.
One way to improve the accuracy of the treadmill stress test is to use it in combination with a stress echocardiogram. This involves taking an ultrasound image of the heart while the patient is exercising. This type of testing provides information both about the mechanics of the heart in terms of muscle and valve function, and also about the health of the arteries supplying the heart muscle.
Find out more (about shocking heart truths, not about green peppers).
© Carolyn Thomas www.myheartsisters.org 2009