HYDERABAD: Mrs X (39) experienced burning in chest and she went to meet her physician who gave some antacid and then asked her to meet a cardiologist. The lady had some relief but the burning continued.
When she got her ECG done, it was found she had a massive heart attack, but unfortunately, she reported late to the hospital and considerable damage had already been done to the heart. It’s so sad to hear this but every now and then, we see this in our practice. What happened to Mrs X is a classic case of delayed diagnosis, lack of awareness and atypical presentation of the disease.
Heart disease is portrayed as a disease affecting males only in our movies, plays and media advertisements. Contrary to this perception, it is seen that women are equally affected by heart ailments. The mortality rate is 264 for women and 348 for men. What is more disturbing is the fact that not just women but more and more young women are affected by heart diseases.
It’s a common belief that premenopausal women are less likely to get heart diseases because of the ample presence of estrogen hormone, but that’s no more the case now. While most women worry about cancer (breast and cervical), more women die from heart attacks. Rapid urbanisation, unhealthy lifestyle, obesity, lack of physical activity, stress of managing home and office are leading to women forgetting their own needs.
Even though heart disease tends to strike later in life, it can happen at any age. Rising incidence of smoking, diabetes and hypertension is leading to dramatic rise in heart diseases among women, especially younger ones. A study by a diagnostic lab found that more than 40% women in India have abnormal lipid profile making them prone to heart diseases. Another peculiarity is that in women, the symptoms of heart attacks are also slightly different from men.
Many times, a woman does not a present classical symptom of central chest pain radiating to both arms, and sweating. More often, they present with atypical symptoms like nausea, indigestion, shoulder pain, jaw pain burning in chest, heavy breathing or breathlessness.
This leads to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. A Swiss study found that women waited 37 minutes longer to seek care after initial onset of heart attack symptoms. If this is situation in a developed country, imagine the delay in our country. Another disturbing fact is that women are also less likely to get adequate treatment.
A study showed that only 38% of women patients got aspirin, against 50.4% of the men.The same is with other treatment like angioplasty or bypass surgery. What can we do to control this? The government and media should increase awareness about this in society. (The writer is senior consultant cardiologist, Continental Hospitals)
Women can make several lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of heart diseases:
1. Exercise regularly (at least 150-300 min a week or 30-45 min per day moderate intensity exercise.
2. Eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid saturated or trans fat, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.
3. Quit or don’t start smoking
4. Regular yoga/meditation to reduce the impact of stress
5. Manage risk factors like hypertension and lipid level by using appropriate medications.
6. Be aware of heart diseases and symptoms. Do not neglect symptoms brushing them off as gas problem or general weakness.