Women and heart disease: Myths and truths

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Woman with nurse in exam room

There are several misconceptions about heart disease in women and they could be putting you at risk.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., and more than 8 million women are living with some form of heart disease – coronary heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and rheumatic heart disease, according to the Women’s Heart Foundation.

“Just as women get mammograms and screening tests to help detect diseases, they also should address and modify their cardiac risk factors,” says Michael Bauer, M.D., a cardiologist on staff at Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH). “Taking the time to learn about their risk factors can help prevent heart disease.”

The NCH Heart and Vascular Center debunks some common myths and provides you with the facts you need to know about women and heart disease.

Myth: Cardiovascular disease mainly affects older men.

Truth: Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, according to American Heart Association. Women often don’t take action against heart disease because:

  • They’re already feeling stressed and tired.
  • They feel too busy to make changes in their lives.
  • They don’t treat their health as a top priority.
  • They think they’re not old enough to be at risk.

Myth: Most women do not experience chest pain during a heart attack. Fatigue and shortness of breath are much more common.

Truth: Women’s symptoms can be different. However, chest discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women. “Any chest symptoms should be evaluated,” Dr. Bauer says. “Heart disease symptoms present in different ways.” Women are more likely than men to have additional, non-specific symptoms, including:

  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Nausea

If you are having symptoms, call 9-1-1. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

Myth: Women don’t need to worry about cardiovascular disease before menopause.

Truth: Cardiovascular disease progresses over decades. Being premenopausal probably does not protect you from cardiovascular disease. You should be vigilant at all ages.

Myth: Supplements are key to preventing cardiovascular disease in women.

Truth: Vitamin E supplements are not proven to prevent cardiovascular disease. Studies have found that Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Co-Q10 have no clear benefit in reducing cardiac deaths.

Myth: Every adult should take aspirin regularly to prevent heart attack and stroke.

Truth: Patients with established cardiovascular disease should take aspirin or other blood thinners.

Myth: Eggs are unhealthy and should not be eaten.

Truth: Egg yolks do contain cholesterol, but studies have not shown a correlation between egg consumption and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The greater danger lies in foods heavy with trans and saturated fats. Dietary cholesterol isn’t bad for you.

Myth: If I’m thin and exercise regularly, I won’t develop cardiovascular disease.

Truth: Not necessarily. There are some cardiac risk factors that you cannot change: your age, gender and family history. Keeping active and maintaining healthy weight are activities that you can control, but they are not a guarantee against developing cardiovascular disease.

Myth: Exercise is beneficial only if prolonged. No pain, no gain.

Truth: Every bit counts. Try to sit less and move more. Prolonged sitting has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. Several studies have shown that repeated, intermittent periods of exercise have a cumulative effect similar to prolonged exercise.

You can also reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight and following a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Limiting sodium also is recommended.

  • Michael Bauer



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