Diseases of the Heart

Heart Disease in WomenHeart disease (also known as coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, and ischemic heart disease) is present in about 25% of all Americans.  Since 1984, heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases have killed more women than men each year.  Heart disease in women is more fatal than cancer, lung disease, diabetes, pneumonia, accidents, and AIDS combined. 

Heart disease in women can develop from congenital defects, infection, narrowing of the arteries, high blood pressure, or other disturbances.  In these conditions, there is a general inability to provide the heart with enough oxygen and other nutrients.  Also, the blood that flows through narrowed arteries can form a clot and block an artery. 

Common conditions for someone likely to develop heart disease include:

  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Poor cholesterol levels (HDL under 55 and LDL above 130)
  • Diabetes
  • Age, especially women of menopause age

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease

Symptoms vary according to the type of disease and unfortunately some types cause no symptoms early on.  In 64% of women who died suddenly of heart disease, there were no previous symptoms.  Generally, symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue, palpitations, lightheadedness, or fainting.  Heart pain can be caused when there is a discrepancy between the demand of the heart for oxygen and nutrients during times of a faster heart beat and the supply available to heart through narrowed or blocked arteries.  Heart attack is actually a symptom of heart disease.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

People with heart disease are at risk for stroke.  If a clot in an artery suddenly reduces the blood flow to part of the heart, there will be a heart attack.  Women are less likely than men to survive a heart attack and are more likely to have a second attack.  African-American women are 60% more likely than Caucasian women to die of heart disease.

Some people live with heart disease with no trouble.  Others have to live a much more restricted and regimented life.  They can have recurrent attacks of angina (heart pain) that requires them to modify their activities.  Some must be very careful to avoid any kind of physical or emotional stress.

Treatment For Heart Disease

A physician will arrange for tests to evaluate the seriousness of each case of heart disease and then discuss a treatment program intended to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.  Daily aspirin therapy may be suggested to help thin the blood and allow it to pass more easily through the arteries.  Surgery options include the balloon angioplasty and coronary artery bypass grafting.  If a clot can be discovered within 4 to 6 hours of developing, a physician may inject a clot-dissolving drug to restore blood flow.

A heart healthy diet and exercise can be the best bet for preventing some forms of heart disease.  Diets should be low in salt, cholesterol and fat and be high in vitamin C with lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  Quitting smoking and losing weight can be big advantages in the fight against heart disease.

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