Did you know that more women die from heart disease than men?

For Irish Heart Month this September with the Irish Heart Foundation, we take a look at the lesser known side of heart health – the woman’s perspective!

Lack of awareness

The first issue is that women are less concerned about heart disease than men. According to the Irish Heart Foundation, women are six times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.  But are we looking after ourselves? Awareness is the first step. 80% of heart disease is preventable by lifestyle changes. Women need to get their cholesterol and blood pressure checked just as much as men. Implementing a healthy diet and increasing exercise are simple preventative measures.  Stop smoking is always a key step.  Drinkaware.ie recommends also having two alcohol-free days a week, at least.  So while we’ve heard that red wine is good for your heart, this doesn’t mean that indulging every night of the week is a good idea.

Risk factors specific for women

Women have some particular risk factors also related to hormones. Did you even know that the age of menstruation plays a role? If you started menstruating early (before 10) or late (after 17) you may be at increased risk. Similarly, early menopause can increase risk with respect to reduced oestrogen levels. It is also a factor that some women may gain weight at this time, particularly around the waistline. This in itself carries greater risk for heart disease along with other conditions.

Women have smaller hearts than men and so can be at risk for conditions that affect the smaller arteries, which are not always detected by standard testing. Because these smaller arteries are often involved, women tend to also have more subtle symptoms of heart attack. In the absence of typical chest pain, women can have a very subtle tightening or pressure according to the Mayo Clinic. This may not send you racing to the A&E and the delay in diagnosis could be critical.

It’s not like in the movies

We’ve all seen the movies; the grip of the chest, the shortness of breath – but were most of these dramatic moments depicted by men? Women might display none of the well-known signs and symptoms and this has been a feature of medical bias for many years. More common symptoms of a heart attack in women are nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, even jaw pain and/or neck pain. Women need to listen to their bodies and if you feel you need a second opinion, go get one. Don’t let niggling symptoms be ignored.

Hear our top ten tips for heart health and much more in our one-hour talk on ‘A Mighty Heart’ from our Food Crew!

About the author : Aine Ryan