Heart Disease: Number 1 Cause of Death in Women

Cancer and stroke occupy the next two positions in new statistic

Experts from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, led by cardiologist Nausheen Akhter, say that cardiovascular diseases are now the leading cause of death in women. In the past, it was thought that stroke or cancer were responsible for most preventable deaths.

According to a series of new statistics, women over the age of 40 have a 32 percent chance of developing coronary artery disease. This condition can easily lead to a fatal heart attack, experts say.

Akhter specializes in the impact of heart diseases on women, and on quantifying the risks involved. She is also providing her patients with advice on how to ensure that they place themselves out of harm's way, and reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disorders.

During a seminar entitled “Cardiovascular Disease and Women,” which she hosted at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, April 3, the expert said that assessing a woman's risk of developing such conditions is usually done with the Framingham Risk Calculator.

This tool takes into accounts factors such as smoking history, family history of illness, diabetes risks, hypertensions and age, to name but a few. Each of these influences receives a score, which is then compounded with all the others to yield a final value.

“Generally, we’re finding heart disease in the 70s and up. But I think that women who are most at risk are younger women,” the expert said, speaking about what age group is the less likely to seek treatment, or be unaware of symptoms.

“I don’t think that women pay enough attention to their health. I think that the assumption is, with heart disease too, we have a little bit of this benefit from having estrogen because [estrogen] pushes heart disease off to an older age,” Akhter explains.

She adds that some of the most commonly-used treatment options include blood pressure monitoring, consuming omega-3 fatty acids, and keeping a tight control over glycemic levels in diabetic women.

A form of cardiovascular disease that is currently increasing its prevalence in women is diastolic heart failure, she adds. This “is a type of heart failure in which the problem is with the relaxation of the heart muscles,” Akhter adds.

“The heart is actually stiff and it can cause the same symptoms as someone whose heart is weak. It can cause fluid to back up in the lungs, it could cause you to be short of breath and develop fluid in the legs,” she concludes.

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