Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over 40, especially those who have attained menopause. Over 56% of women in the age group of 30-69 yrs in rural areas of India fall prey to heart-disease related mortality. Menopause normally occurs around 50-55 years or earlier and is preceded by the perimenopause stage, wherein women experience hormonal changes and declining estrogen levels. Reduced estrogen production as well as the amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries, puts women at higher risk for heart attacks.
A heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) occurs when there’s a blockage in the flow of blood due to hardening or clogging in the arteries. The part of the heart that does not receive blood causes the muscle to scar and die. Heart attack that comes without any symptoms, or symptoms that are not commonly associated with a heart attack, is usually termed as ‘silent’. Women, especially over 40 years, have a higher risk than men of suffering silent heart attacks, which are deadlier. One of the reasons may be that women are more at risk of getting blockages in the small arteries and vessels of the heart (small vessel heart disease). The person may not even know that he/she is having an attack. Sometimes attacks happen while a person is asleep.
Risk factors of heart disease & heart attack
• Being overweight.
• Diabetes: Diabetic women have a higher risk of getting heart disease than men.
• High cholesterol: Increased levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), leading to thickening of plaque on artery walls.
• Increased fibrinogen levels (a substance which helps the blood to clot) and increased tendency for clots to form, which can lead to heart or brain stroke.
• Family history of heart disease also affects women more than men.
• Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke is a greater heart disease risk for women than men.
• Autoimmune and inflammatory diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis increase the risk of heart disease.
• Excessive stress and emotional trauma due to a recent life event;
• Sudden and excessive physical exertion;
• Excessive physical activity outdoors in the cold weather.
Don’t ignore these symptoms
The following symptoms, not commonly associated with a heart attack, may point towards a ‘silent’ attack, and must not be ignored by women, especially if one or more of the risk factors are present. Women are more likely to experience symptoms that are conventionally not associated with a heart attack.
• Acid reflux;
• Indigestion and gas;
• Extreme fatigue;
• Soreness and tightness in muscles of the chest and upper back;
• Ache in chest, neck, upper back and /or jaw;
• Pain in one or both arms;
• Abdominal discomfort;
• Palpitations or irregular heartbeat;
• Short breath or shallow breathing;
• Nausea or vomiting;
• Lightheadedness or dizziness
• Breaking out in a cold sweat;
• Panic attack.
• Annual heart health screening, check-up and monitoring.
• Don’t smoke. If you do, quit smoking today, and avoid second-hand smoke.
• Maintain healthy body weight and lose the extra kilos.
• Exercise or take a brisk walk for 30-45 minutes three or more times per week.
• Avoid saturated fat and trans fats in the diet. Increase intake of high fibre foods like whole grains and legumes (such as beans and peas).
• Add color to the diet with fresh green leafy vegetables like spinach, fenugreek leaves, cabbage, kale and celery, and citrus fruits like orange, papaya and lime, apple, banana, pear and strawberries, etc.
• Intake of nuts and seeds like almonds, walnut, pistachio, sunflower and chia seeds.
• Include omega-3 rich foods like fish in the diet.
• Keep diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure under control.
(The author is by Dr. Angeli Misra (MD Path), Founder & Director, Lifeline Laboratory)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of India TV)