As Women’s Heart Health month nears its end, women of all ages should be informed and motivated to make sure their heart is in check, year round. It’s important to know that some symptoms you may brush off, could mean something bigger. Ultimately, you have to have open conversations with your physician so they can provide the highest level of care.
There’s Not Enough Science
Did you know: “Women make up 54% of people with heart disease, but they are completely underrepresented in randomized clinical trials. So the challenge we have as physicians is how to diagnose and treat women because we just don’t have a lot of data,” says Jennifer D. Schwartz, MD, FHRS, a cardiologist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.
That means doctors are using data that pertains to male symptoms and outcomes for women, even though women present symptoms and outcomes much differently from men. It could be hard to believe, but there is no concrete or comprehensive science to care specifically for female patients with heart disease. Efforts are being made to change this, but there is still a long way to go.
The majority of information about women and heart disease tends to skew older, so should younger women, ages 25-35 have any concerns about heart health? Of course, says Dr. Schwartz. Her younger patients often have issues with fainting or Tachycardia, also known as elevated heart rate.
“Women of that age group are often given a diagnosis of panic attacks or anxiety when they really could be arrhythmias. So I tell my patients it’s not normal to have elevated heart rates. Fainting is also not normal. It may be benign, but it’s incumbent upon the providers to rule out anything serious.”
The working mom is on the go. She’s superwoman and she always puts herself last. From packing school lunches to attending parent teacher conferences to meetings at work, working moms often deprioritize their own health.
Studies have shown that working moms can feel upwards of 40% more stressed than women with no children. According to the American Heart Association, while more research is needed on how stress correlates to heart disease, stress is directly connected to behaviors that can increase the risk of heart disease (smoking, overeating, cholesterol levels, etc.)
Dr. Schwartz says that the little things can make a big difference when it comes to working moms putting themselves first, and decreasing feelings of stress. “Park further away in the parking lot to get in a longer walk, turn your phone off in the car during your commute, enjoy the silence. And if there are people or things that can help you do those things, you need to take advantage of it. Be okay with asking for for help.”
As women age, perimenopause kicks in, where they begin to lose estrogen, a protectorate of the heart. As that wall of protection lowers, heart disease risks climb. This is why older women, ages 55 and up, make up more than 50% of women with heart disease. Older women are also at a higher risk for atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, which causes an irregular heartbeat and can cause a higher risk of stroke.
So how can these risks be prevented, or at least how can women make themselves more aware?
“You need to know your numbers. Know what your BMI is, know your cholesterol level, know your blood pressure level. Women need to ask questions of their physicians and be aware of how symptoms may change,” says Dr. Schwartz.
Be sure to speak with your primary care physician about any heart concerns you may have. Or speak to a cardiologist.
These quotes were pulled from an Instagram Livestream on February 14, 2019. Watch the interview on Youtube here.