February is National Heart Month and the month that we bring awareness to cardiovascular disease with the Go Red for Women campaign. Friday is “National Wear Red Day.”
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of American women. More women than men die of heart disease every single year.
Women are undertreated and underserved when it comes to heart disease. Heart disease has long been associated with men, but the truth is that it affects both sexes.
In women, heart disease symptoms can be quite vague and nonspecific. Traditional symptoms are chest pain or pressure, sweating, nausea and pain the arm or neck. Shortness of breath may also occur. Women may experience these traditional symptoms, but sometimes they do not.
In women, symptoms are more difficult to tease out. Sometimes they may have a feeling of dread, flu-like symptoms or fatigue. The key is for both patient and doctor to know their risks and interpret symptoms within the context of the risk.
Women and men with cardiovascular disease are not always treated the same. There is a larger gender disparity in the way in which men and women are treated. Men are more likely to receive more timely and more aggressive therapies. This may be due to the fact that women are not diagnosed as quickly, may not recognize their own symptoms and may be billed as anxious or depressed when presenting with a heart attack because they may have atypical symptoms.
In order to address the problems, the most important thing we can do is educate patients, families and doctors as to the risks that women face from heart attack and stroke. Events like GO Red are critical to raising public awareness.
Strides are being made in the right direction, but there's still a long way to go.