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Heart disease and women

Sarah Kelsey is a lifestyle writer, editor and spokesperson based in Toronto. She was the editor of AOL/The Huffington Post Canada’s StyleList, Style and Living sites. Today, she's a freelancer writing for some of North America’s top pub...

Heart disease in women

Heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women, but new research is shining a light on the ways the disease affects women differently.

Heart health

What is heart disease?

Heart disease usually occurs when plaque builds up inside the blood vessels of the heart making it more difficult for blood to get pumped through it and to the rest of the body. This can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease risk

There are several factors that can put a woman at risk of developing heart disease. The most common include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, stress, inactivity, alcohol or substance abuse, and smoking.

How heart disease affects women

Until recently, it was thought that heart disease affected women in the same way it affected men, but research has shown that's not always the case. Here's why:

Our bodies are different. Our physical differences aren't just limited to our bones and muscles; they also extend to our hearts. Women's hearts are narrower and more curved, which may hinder how well a doctor can treat the disease (traditional therapies have been built around the shape of a man's heart, which is rounder).

Women recover slower than men. In most cases, a women's body will recover from trauma slower than a man's including after she's had a heart attack.

We have more to juggle. As women juggling careers, family life, and personal time, we often feel torn between doing chores and taking care of ourselves. This can put us at even greater risk of heart disease, heart attack reoccurrence, and stress.

Doctors are missing the signs and symptoms of heart disease in women. Research has shown women develop heart disease later in life than men. This gap may be attributed to the misdiagnosis (or no diagnosis) of heart disease in women. Another reason could be estrogen; some research shows estrogen protects a woman's heart from the disease.

TreatING heart disease

While research into treating women with heart disease continues, there are a few things women can be doing now to limit their risk of developing the disease: controlling blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, getting exercise, and enjoying social time with friends and family. It's also important to know the signs and symptoms of heart disease and a heart attack. If you experience tightness in your chest or numbness in one side of your body, get to a hospital immediately.

More on heart heath

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