Cardiovascular diseases in women: what they are and what they are due to
In Italy, cardiovascular diseases are the cause of about 35.8% of annual deaths. An important risk that should not be underestimated, but about which there are still misunderstandings and gaps in information, especially when it comes to gender
What do we mean?
We mean that heart disease is not always the same for men and women, but may differ in symptoms, long-term effects, and consequently in the choice of treatment by the specialist.
Gender differences in cardiovascular disease: what causes them?
In the vast majority of cardiovascular diseases, there are important differences between men and women in terms of incidence, clinical manifestations and the effects of different therapies.
These differences are linked to biological and environmental factors: different gene expression in the two sexes and hormonal differences affect the functioning of the cardiovascular system and the response to treatment; in addition, the environmental context in which we live has a major influence by exposing the two sexes to different diets, lifestyles and sources of stress.
Both of these factors are important contributors to the onset of cardiovascular disease.
For this reason, it is important to be aware of gender differences when it comes to heart disease, both in the diagnostic phase, where symptoms between a male and a female patient may differ, and in the choice of therapy, which must be tailored to the clinical history of the individual patient.
Myocardial infarction: differences between men and women
Myocardial infarction (and ischaemic heart disease in general) is the most frequent cardiovascular disease in the western world.
The risk of developing ischemic heart disease due to atherosclerotic disease in women is delayed by about 10 years compared to men.
This is due to the important role played by hormones.
However, due to biological and social characteristics, women have a higher risk of developing cardiac pathologies similar to myocardial infarction linked to stress factors and increased vasoreactivity, so it is always important not to underestimate the symptoms.
Myocardial infarction is commonly thought to present clinically with a heavy weight and chest pain, sometimes radiating to the left arm, but in reality it can often start with atypical and nuanced symptoms.
This is a more subtle condition, which mainly affects women and which, if not recognised in time, can lead to a delay in rescue and treatment.
In women in particular, therefore, in addition to the typical symptoms of a heart attack, other manifestations should not be underestimated, such as pain in the jaw and back, difficulty in digestion, increased sweating, and a feeling of lack of air.
All symptoms that could be the alarm bell for a more severe underlying condition.
Cardiovascular diseases: information and correct lifestyle for adequate prevention
Precisely because of their atypical characteristics, women often receive less scrupulous and precise diagnoses in the event of a myocardial infarction than men and less rapid treatment.
For this reason, when it comes to prevention, it is important to ensure that both medical staff and patients are properly informed about the risk factors for myocardial infarction and the symptoms that should not be underestimated.
It is of fundamental importance, in both women and men, to adopt a correct lifestyle, which helps to keep cardiovascular risk factors under control and reduce the possibility of having a heart attack.
First of all, regular monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate is necessary.
Nutrition is also particularly important: an adequate diet should be rich in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat, sugar, salt and alcohol;
Diabetes, obesity and hypercholesterolemia increase the risk of cardiovascular disease
Regular sporting activity consistent with one’s age and physical condition is also essential: our heart benefits from walking for about half an hour a day at a steady pace.
Finally, smokers should give up cigarette smoking as soon as possible, as it is considered a major risk factor for heart disease.
Women and the heart: when to go for a cardiological examination?
Those women who know they have a family history of cardiovascular disease or diseases associated with cardiovascular risk should refer to a cardiologist for regular check-ups and examinations.
In the absence of symptoms or alarm bells, it is advisable to have a first cardiological examination after the age of 40 to assess your cardiovascular risk profile.
A regular cardiological check-up, at a time indicated by the specialist, will then usually be recommended in patients with an increased cardiovascular risk.
A specialist cardiology check-up is especially recommended when symptoms that could indicate a heart problem appear, such as chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, fainting with loss of consciousness or reduced tolerance to physical activity.
In general, if you have any doubts about your heart health, you should always seek medical attention.