February is American Heart Month

HEALTH NEWS from University of Cincinnati

U.C. Media Relations – Cedric Ricks, Public Information Officer

About 647,000 Americans die from heart disease annually. That’s nearly one in four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s the leading cause of death for women, men and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the nation.

February is American Heart Month and the first Friday in the month is designated National Wear Red Day by Go Red for Women and the American Heart Association to call attention to the risk heart disease presents for women. It kills more American women than all cancers combined. Dr. Hina Jamali assistant professor of cardiovascular health and disease at the University of Cincinnati and UC Health cardiologist, provides some insight into this often silent killer of Americans.

Does heart disease differ in women as compared to men?

Dr. Hina Jamali, MD, Cardiology. (Courtesy University of Cincinnati) 

Jamali: Heart disease in women, particularly ischemic heart disease or disease related to narrowing of coronary arteries, presents in ways that differ from what we have seen in men during the past 20 years. The most prominent issue that came to light was the simple fact that healthcare professionals as well as patients themselves, were not looking for heart disease in women as diligently as they were looking for it in men. As a result, it was being underdiagnosed, or being diagnosed late, as well as being undertreated.

We now have studies showing higher prevalence of what we call “atypical symptoms” of heart disease in women compared to men. Chest pain remains the leading symptoms of ischemic heart disease in both sexes; however in women, the pain can be “different” and not a classic left-sided chest pressure-like pain. Instead, it can feel like a mid-back pain, throat pain, breathlessness or unusual and unexplained fatigue as well as upper abdominal pain (epigastric pain) with symptoms similar to those of heartburn. 

Psychosocial factors also play a role in these gender differences. Women take longer to seek health care and pay less attention to their health, which is likely linked to their social roles as mothers and wives. 

Also, the presence of depression and other forms of mental stress (anxiety, anger, work and marital stress) is higher in women than in men, and it can affect their health seeking behavior negatively as well as lead to poorer outcomes in the presence of heart disease.

Click here for full story from Cedric Ricks and more from Dr. Jamali