By: Ng Peng Hock
In Feb 2006, researchers reported that many women suffer from a fundamentally different heart disease from men and is easily missed from standard tests. Moreover, women do not seek treatment as early as men, and women's hearts are smaller and their blood vessels are more easily damaged. Another possible reason is that the disease could manifest itself differently. As a result, women are less likely to survive heart attacks than men. Many women are still unaware that heart disease and stroke have emerged as the top killers of women worldwide.
The researchers found that for some women, instead of developing obvious blockages in the arteries supplying blood to the heart, plaque are accumulated more evenly inside the major arteries and in smaller blood vessels. In other cases, their arteries fail to expand properly or go into spasm, often at times of physical or emotional stress. These abnormalities are very common for younger women and these can be dangerous because they could trigger life-threatening heart attacks.
Instead of the classic crushing chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath, they often complain of vague symptoms such as fatigue, an upset in stomach, or pain in the jaw or shoulders. This certainly explain why some women suddenly have heart attacks even though their arteries look clear and in some cases, the doctors even send them home without treatment or refer them to psychiatrists. Even if they do get medical treatment, these women may not benefit from the standard drugs or therapies such as bypass surgery and angioplasty to reopen the clogged arteries. In many cases, these women whose arteries looked clear in normal tests have a significantly higher risk of having a heart attack or dying within four or five years. The abnormalities could be due to the fact that hormonal or genetic differences change how their arteries react. In America, there are as many as three million women may suffer from these conditions.
Despite the new findings, many women do have the same kind of heart disease as men, and they do benefit from the same preventative measures and treatments that help men: a healthy diet and weight; regular exercise; and a lower blood pressure and cholesterol level. It is still unclear how best doctors can tackle such conditions, but the new findings do provide important understanding of a major health problem, and it also alerts both women and their doctors about the alternative manifestations of the disease.
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