Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, responsible for about 1 in 5 deaths.
Unfortunately, because heart disease historically has been considered a man’s disease, many women don’t know they’re at risk for heart disease and the deadly complications it can cause.
A leading cardiovascular specialist in Orlando, Sebring, and Davenport, Florida, Ashish Pal, MD, helps women at Vein & Cardiovascular Center understand their risks for heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
Here’s what he wants you to know about five heart problems that commonly affect women.
An arrhythmia happens when your heart doesn’t beat normally. Most of us experience an occasional skipped beat, which is nothing to worry about. But if your heart consistently beats in an irregular or erratic manner, it can increase your risks of heart attack and stroke.
The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation or Afib. Other symptoms of arrhythmia include shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness.
Coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease affecting Americans.
Coronary artery disease happens when sticky plaques collect along the walls of the coronary arteries — the vessels that supply your heart muscle with blood. These plaques clog the arteries and make them stiff, interfering with normal blood flow.
Many people with CAD have chest pain called angina. These cramps are warning signals that your heart isn’t getting enough blood. Other times, a heart attack is the first indication someone has coronary artery disease.
Coronary microvascular disease (MVD)
Large blood vessels aren’t the only ones associated with heart disease. Microvascular disease involves the smaller blood vessels that branch off from the larger coronary arteries.
Also called small artery disease, coronary microvascular disease tends to happen more often in women.
Unlike CAD that’s caused by plaque buildup inside the arteries, MVD happens when the lining of the vessels is damaged or when the tiny arteries are damaged in other ways, causing them to spasm and cut off blood flow.
Heart valve disease
Your heart has four valves that open and close in a specific order to keep blood flowing in the right direction through your heart. These valves contain flaps that control the flow of blood.
If a valve doesn’t close all the way, blood can flow backward, a condition called regurgitation. Sometimes, a valve is stiffer than normal, making it hard for the flaps to open all the way. This is called stenosis, and it can reduce the amount of blood moving through your heart.
Broken heart syndrome
Broken heart syndrome isn’t really a disease — it’s a temporary condition that’s typically reversible. But it can cause significant chest pain and heart muscle failure, making it a serious condition. It also tends to affect women more than men.
Also called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or stress cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome happens when part of your heart balloons out in response to significant stress.
While rarely fatal, this syndrome can cause serious and life-threatening complications, like pulmonary embolism, low blood pressure, and arrhythmia.
Make heart health a priority
Most of us think heart problems have dramatic symptoms right off the bat, but the fact is, early symptoms can be subtle. Having routine cardiovascular evaluations, especially as you get older, is important for spotting problems (and treating them) as early as possible.
To schedule your heart exam or to find out what’s causing heart-related symptoms, book an appointment online or over the phone at Vein & Cardiovascular Center today.