Heart disease is a catch-all phrase used to address various diseases of the heart and vascular (circulatory) system. The medical terms used during diagnosis are more specific, pinpointing the problem exactly. Heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the United States, accounts for the death of one out of every four women. One form of heart disease — coronary heart disease (CHD) — is the #1 cause of death for American women and men alike.
What Every Woman Should Know About Heart Disease
- Estrogen protects young women from most forms of heart disease but the protection ceases when older women reach menopause.
- Coronary heart disease occurs when the inner walls of coronary arteries become blocked with plaque.
- Atherosclerosis is caused by plaque deposits in an artery.
- Plaque is hardened deposits of calcium, cholesterol, fat, and other substances from the bloodstream.
- Hypertension (high blood pressure) occurs when blood flow is forced through arteries that have become dangerously narrowed by plaque deposits.
- Angina is pain or unpleasant feelings in the chest. Angina occurs when plaque deposits become large enough to restrict the flow of blood to the heart.
- A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is stopped. The most common cause of heart attack happens when plaque deposits inside the blood vessels rupture and form blood clots that block the flow of blood to the heart.
- Coronary microvascular disease (MVD) occurs when the tiniest arteries in the heart become diseased or damaged. Also called nonobstructive CHD or cardiac syndrome X, MVD affects more postmenopausal women than men of any age.
- Broken heart syndrome is more common in otherwise healthy women than men. Extreme emotional stress triggers the failure of the heart muscle in ways that are severe but usually short-lived. Other names for the condition include stress-induced cardiomyopathy and takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
- Women are more likely to develop CHD 10 years later than men do. In some cases, it can be prevented and most people with CHD can control the disease by eliminating risk factors.
- Some modifiable risk factors that encourage the development of heart disease include smoking, excess alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle, neglect of dental problems, poorly controlled diabetes, prolonged stress, inadequate sleep, and working night shifts. Diets high in fat and salt contribute to the development of heart disease.
The risk of heart disease for women varies by ethnicity:
- It is the leading cause of death for white and black women in the US.
- Hispanic women are at equal risk of death from heart disease and cancer.
- For women of Alaska Native, American Indian, or Asian / Pacific Island heritage, cancer is the #1 cause of death; heart disease is #2.
Roughly 64% of all women who experience sudden death from CHD exhibit no symptoms before the fatal heart attack.
The number of Americans dying from heart disease each year has dropped steadily in the past three decades but the death rate for women hasn’t dropped as markedly as the death rate for men.
- How Does Heart Disease Affect Women? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.
- Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 22 Jul. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.