Affairs of the Heart: Gender Matters

In the battle of the sexes regarding heart health–women verses men–does one gender have an advantage over the other? Women tend to live longer than men. Does this imply women do not develop heart disease?

Women do develop heart disease, but their heart disease progresses differently than in men. And heart problems may come later in life for women, when the protective benefits of estrogen diminish.

The best way for a woman to know her own heart health, is to ask her doctor, said Dr. Aarti Patel of USF Health Cardiology.

“A physical with your doctor is key in determining risk factors for heart disease,” Dr. Patel said “We start with a thorough family history and then do a full physical exam. We don’t recommend genetic testing for everyone. In time, we might get to that place but, for now, we start with a thorough history. If you have a family member who developed heart disease at a young age, that is something we would need to know because it helps us know if you have an increased risk for heart problems.”

Is Menopause the gateway to heart disease?

The onset of heart disease in women is linked to the onset of menopause. During her reproductive years as a woman menstruates, she produces estrogen, nature’s protector against LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides and promoter of higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol).

The hormonal advantage women have with estrogen’s heart protective qualities begins to wane as they reach their late 40s to early 50s.

Going through menopause and losing the hormonal advantage, means losing some of the ability to naturally diminish harmful cholesterol.

Menopause is not the only driving factor of women’s heart disease — lifestyle and genetics also play a big role in if and when women develop the onset of heart disease.

“We really harp on the concept of staying active and exercising because it does decrease your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and developing diabetes, and it improves your cardiovascular risk,” Dr. Patel said. “The American Heart Association recommends anywhere from 75 to 100 minutes a week of activity. That includes walking, biking, swimming, anything that gets you out there and active.”

Know Your Body

Ladies, you need to know the risk factors that lead to heart disease and empower yourselves to deter as many risk factors as possible. Some risk factors are out of our control, such as age and family history. But some are manageable. Reduce your risk or delay the onset of heart disease by knowing your risk factors:

-Family history of heart disease
-Diabetes
-High blood pressure
-High blood cholesterol
-Obesity
-Diet (high saturated fats and cholesterol)
-Physical inactivity
-Use of tobacco products
-Excessive alcohol use

Know the Symptoms

A woman’s heart attack symptoms differ from a man’s. Know the facts:

-Shortness of breath
-Unusual and long lasting (several days) fatigue or sudden and extreme fatigue
-Anxiety
-Feeling light headed
-Trouble sleeping or sleep disturbance
-Experiencing pain similar to having gas or indigestion
-Pain that spreads to your jaw or direct jaw pain
-Pain or pressure in the center of your chest

Enjoy a Heart Healthy Life

Enjoy a heart healthy life. Talk with your doctor about managing physical conditions and creating good habits. Our providers at USF Health are here to help, making life better.

Written by Ercilia Colón