Why Women’s Hearts are Different
Aside from a woman’s heart being a little lesser because women tend to be a tiny smaller than men, the basic building blocks are the same. However, when we look a little closer, we see some differences in how the two work and how they get sick. Strictly speaking, if we were to have a woman’s heart side by side with a man’s, they look the same.
One of the major biological events in a woman’s lifetime is menopause. At this time, the levels of estrogen in her blood decline. This leads to the traditional sign of menopause but has a very significant side effect on the heart. Oestrogen is good at keeping blood vessels healthy and supple and at keeping cholesterol levels quite safe. When the oestrogen falls, we know that blood vessels become stiffer, more likely to build up plaque and cholesterol becomes higher with high levels of the bad LDL cholesterol.
A woman’s blood vessels and her heart are particularly prone to the ill effects of other illnesses. For cause we’re not sure of yet, diabetes, hypertension and smoking seem to reason more damage to women than men.
Lastly, the way in which heart attacks happen in men and women can be different. A heart attack happens when the coronary arteries which supply blood to the heart develop blockages. In men, these blockages tend to be big, bulky plaques that stick out into the middle of the vessel. These blockages are simple to see on tests like a coronary angiogram and tend to respond well to the treatments that we have. Women however, often have a different form of the disease. Up to 60% of women who have sign don’t have these big plaques. Rather, they have blood vessels that are more reactive; they squeeze and spasm aggressively, another area that is under intense investigation.
Symptoms of heart disease
Most of us are common with the traditional way heart disease is seen on TV or in movies. Generally, the character falls over clutching their chest. Pain in the middle of the chest that travels down the left arm or into the jaw is traditionally associated with heart disease. However, only 31% of women have chest pain. Women tend to have more sign that are a little harder to pick such as shortness of breath, weakness, arm, back or jaw pain ,palpitations, dizziness or tiredness. These sign make picking heart disease notoriously difficult for the woman and her doctors or nurses alike. If we all struggle to pick these things up, it means that we lose valuable time in treating the heart disease.
The way we treat women’s hearts
Over many years, we have handle to refine the way we take care of heart problems. These advances in medicine, surgery and cardiology meant that we started to see much better survival in people with heart disease. However women with heart disease haven’t really shared in this gain, owing to late recognition of their heart troubles and less use of the best possible treatments in women. We’re also beginning to see that our ‘best medical treatment’ don’t seem to pack the same punch in women as they do in men.
Women who have heart attacks or heart failure experience a nearly double risk of dying. This seems to occur because of these underlying biological differences but also because after a heart attack, women don’t get what they need. This contains medicines but also other important things like heart surgery or stents.
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