Heart disease remains the #1 killer of women in America. One in three women dies of heart disease. A majority of women believe that cancers pose a greater risk to women’s health than heart disease; however 50% of women die from cardiovascular disease compared to 4% from breast cancer. In fact, in 2006, all cardiovascular diseases in the United States combined claimed the lives of almost twice as many females compared to ALL forms of cancer combined.
Diabetes is one of the most significant risk factor for heart disease. Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. These risks are even greater for a woman with diabetes. For example, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease 3-7 times in women versus 2-3 times in men.
There are other differences between men and women when it comes to heart disease. More women die from cardiovascular disease than men, including stroke. Women experience MI differently than men – >50% of women do not experience the classic chest pain. Back pain, abdominal pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting are some of the symptoms that may be seen instead. These atypical symptoms may delay medical attention and affect outcome. Two thirds of women that die suddenly have no previously recognized symptoms.
Obesity contributes to cardiovascular risk by increasing risk for abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Risk estimates from population studies suggest that >75% of hypertension can be directly attributed to obesity.
Most women fail to make the connection between risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, and their “personal” risk. Misperceptions still exist that CVD is not a real problem for women and they are unaware of how their personal risks weigh in comparison to their male counterpart.
It is our role as physicians to educate both men and women on the seriousness of cardiovascular disease in America. We need to educate women that heart disease is indeed a woman’s disease and that the risks that affect the men in our lives, also affect us. In fact, these risks may impact us more strongly, so we need to be aware and take action.
All of us need to take a look at these risks as a call for change. These risks can be modified and can even be eliminated if we take charge of our health. Many of you are in our program and should be commended for your initiative. Weight loss can have a potent and unanimous impact across all of the modifiable cardiovascular risks, such as hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cholesterol. It’s not easy to make a lifestyle change to reduce weight and keep it off, but it is certainly possible. We see it happen every day. Let’s change the odds together!
Written by Sooji Rugh, MD – GreenLite Medicine