Protect Your Heart: Three Things You Should Know about Women’s Cardiovascular Health
February is heart health awareness month, so I’m going to take a short break from writing about addiction and mental health to talk about women and our hearts. Heart disease is the number one cause of death among women worldwide, and in the United States, heart disease often goes unnoticed and undiagnosed in women. Heart disease kills more women each year than cancer, yet many factors contributing to it are known to be preventable. Here are three things about women’s cardiovascular health we should all be more aware of this and every month.
- Women’s hearts are undertreated. A recent report issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that despite clear recommendations gleaned from evidence-based practice, women often receive what amounts to minimal treatment for heart disease diagnoses. For example, although blockages in women’s hearts tend to need less extreme medical intervention than men’s, they can be just as damaging in the long-run and carry the extra risk of appearing less serious and therefore less in need of treatment. The AHA also found that women were less likely to be enrolled in certain cardiovascular rehabilitation programs known to be effective treatments, at times even overlooked for recommended medications that could aid their recovery from and prevention of additional heart problems. It is unacceptable that women can expect to receive inferior treatment for any kind of serious health condition, especially where the heart is concerned.
- Some symptoms of heart trouble are unique to women. Some risk factors and accompanying symptoms of heart disease can be more or less significant based on sex. Young women with diabetes are almost five times as likely to develop a heart condition as their male peers. Simple biological factors like having smaller veins also play a role in challenging women’s recovery from and prevention of heart disease. Women are also more likely to present uncommon symptoms that immediately precede a heart attack, such as dizziness, fatigue or vomiting. Without the proper diagnoses and planning, women will continue to experience worse health outcomes than men in terms of cardiovascular health.
- Black and Hispanic women are especially at risk. Women already receive inferior cardiovascular treatment in contrast to men, but the state of treatment for women of color is particularly in disarray. Although black women of all ages have a higher rate of heart attacks than their white counterparts, AHA found that they are less likely to be recommended for certain crucial treatments than white women. Even more disturbing, in-hospital death rates were found to be higher for young black women than white women in the same age range. These sobering facts reflect the fact that racial disparities continue to exist to an alarming extent in the health care system. It is past time that real progress is made in addressing and ultimately eliminating these inequalities.
The United States has one of the most expensive health care systems in the world, though it still sometimes fails to meet our needs as women and/or minorities. American women are uniquely positioned to advocate for and create change. This February, encourage the women you know to see their physician for a regular check up and to ask about their health options.