Heart Disease: Men and Women

By Jan Bernick, Parish Nurse
When it comes to heart disease, men and women are different. Most of the early studies on heart disease were conducted on men, women were rarely included in those studies. Many health care providers generalized findings from those studies to women, which is unfortunate and inappropriate. The good news is, studies on women and heart disease have increased over the past few decades and we have seen interesting results.

More women die from heart disease than any other illness. Women are more likely to die within a few weeks after a heart attack than men. Some of the risk factors for men and women are the same but there are differences and some of the symptoms of a heart attack are different for women than men.

Non-modifiable (things we can’t change) risk factors for both men and women include age, family history and race. Estrogen plays a role for women. Because of the protective effects of estrogen in women, coronary artery disease develops about 8 to 10 years later than men until age 55 when the risk is equal to men. Women who have gone through menopause are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease than a woman of the same age who has not gone through menopause.

Modifiable (things we can change) risk factors include high cholesterol which is the greatest risk factor for women, high blood pressure for both men and women, diabetes mellitus is a greater risk for women than men, obesity, waist circumference greater than 34.5 inches for women, 40 inches for men, and elevated triglycerides. Metabolic syndrome has been identified as the most important risk factor in women who have had a heart attack at an early age. Five factors are involved in metabolic syndrome; elevated blood sugar, elevated cholesterol, high triglycerides, obesity and hypertension. Diet and lifestyle modifications were shown to improve all five factors associated with metabolic syndrome.

"Diet and lifestyle modifications were shown to improve all five factors associated with metabolic syndrome."

  • Smoking is a higher risk factor for women than men. Women who smoke have a more than double risk of sudden cardiac death than women who never smoked.
  • Obesity is a known risk factor for cardio vascular disease. A body mass index of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and anything over 30 is considered obese. In the United States, 66.4% of women are overweight or obese. Women with obesity are at greater risk of coronary artery disease than men who are obese.
  • Inactivity is a huge modifiable risk factor for preventing heart disease. Exercise is more cardioprotective in women than men. The recommended time of exercise is 30 minutes 5 times a week. That’s a ½ hour walk 5 days a week. Enough justification to get at dog!

Some non-traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease include pregnancy-related disorders, autoimmune disease, radiation and chemotherapy, stress and depression.
Women who experience depression are at higher risk for developing cardio vascular disease than men who experience depression.

Symptoms of a heart attack in women also differ from men. While chest pain is the most presenting symptom in men, women experience unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, sweating, jaw, arm and back pain, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness or dizziness.

The most important way to prevent heart disease is to live a healthy lifestyle beginning at an early age. Exercise, stress reduction, no tobacco use, maintain ideal weight with a plant-based diet of vegetables, fruits and nuts, whole grains, and fish.

Aggressive treatment for high cholesterol is recommended. Smoking cessation is highly recommended.

The bible refers to the heart as the center of our being, the seat of our mind, will, and emotions.
Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our heart with vigilance because from our heart flow all the issues of life. Possibly referencing Isaiah, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Your health care provider should be checking these risk factors for you on an annual basis. However, it is wise to check your own risk factors and take action to change those you can and therefore improve your health and the energy you have to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

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