Dr. Yasir Parviz
Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at Clemenceau Medical Center, Dubai / UK Board Certified
“By adopting healthy lifestyle habits, women can help maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease.”
While heart disease is often thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide. “Hospitals” Magazine had the privilege to meet with Dr. Yasir Parviz, Interventional Cardiologist Consultant at Clemenceau Medical Center, Dubai, to talk about women and heart disease. Dr. Parviz said there are some important differences between men and women regarding heart disease. For example, women are more likely to experience heart disease later in life than men, typically after menopause. Below is the full interview:
What are the most common types of cardiovascular disease in women?
The common types of heart disease are:
- Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): CAD is the leading killer in both men and women. Women are more likely than men to have non-obstructive CAD, where the arteries may not appear significantly blocked but still have limited blood flow. Women are also more likely to have spontaneous coronary artery dissection and the phenomenon of broken heart syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy.
- Heart Failure: Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Women are more likely than men to develop heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, in which the heart muscle becomes stiff and cannot relax properly between beats.
- Arrhythmias: Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms and women are more likely than men to develop certain arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation.
- Pregnancy-related heart diseases and changes in hemodynamics can be exclusively seen in women.
Are women at a higher risk for heart disease than men?
Yes, women are at a higher risk for heart disease than men in certain circumstances. While heart disease is often thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide.
However, there are some important differences between men and women when it comes to heart disease. For example, women are more likely to experience heart disease later in life than men, typically after menopause.
Certain risk factors for heart disease are more common in women than men, including autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, and pregnancy-related conditions, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
Studies and research have shown many differences in the cardiovascular system between men and women; what are these differences?
There are important differences between men and women in their cardiovascular systems.
Hormonal Differences: Hormonal differences between men and women can affect their cardiovascular health. For example, estrogen levels in women have been found to be protective against heart disease, while testosterone levels in men have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Similarly, there are differences in the structure of the heart and blood vessels between men and women. For example, women tend to have smaller blood vessels and a thinner inner layer.
What are the warning signs to look for in women?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, so it is important to be aware of the warning signs and seek medical attention if any symptoms arise. Some of the warning signs of heart disease in women include:
- Chest pain or discomfort: This is the most common symptom of heart disease in both men and women. It may feel like pressure, squeezing, or tightness in the chest.
- Shortness of breath: Women may experience shortness of breath even without chest pain. It may feel like they can’t catch their breath or like they’re suffocating.
- Fatigue: Women may feel unusually tired or exhausted, even with normal daily activities.
- Nausea or vomiting: Women may experience nausea or vomiting, which can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions.
- Pain or discomfort in other areas of the body: Women may experience pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Sweating: Women may experience sudden sweating with no apparent cause.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness: Women may feel dizzy or lightheaded, sometimes leading to fainting.
It is important to note that women may experience different symptoms than men and may not always experience chest pain. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
What can a woman do to reduce the risk of developing heart disease?
- Heart disease is a leading cause of death in women, but there are steps that women can take to reduce their risk of developing it. Here are some of the most effective strategies:
- Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help keep the heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of heart disease. Try to maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
- Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help keep the heart healthy. Limiting saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars can also help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking is a significant risk factor for heart disease. If you smoke, consider quitting. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress can take a toll on the heart. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing, can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Control blood pressure and cholesterol levels: High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage these conditions if you have them.
- Get regular check-ups: Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help identify risk factors for heart disease and provide guidance on how to reduce them.
What are female-specific disorders that increase a woman’s risk of heart disease?
Several female-specific disorders can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease. Some of these disorders include:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can cause irregular periods, excessive hair growth, acne, and weight gain. Women with PCOS are also at increased risk of insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and an increased risk of heart disease.
- Pregnancy-related disorders: Women who experience complications during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or preterm delivery, are at increased risk of developing heart disease later in life.
- Menopause: The drop in estrogen levels during menopause can lead to changes in cholesterol levels and blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease.
- Autoimmune diseases: Certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, are more common in women and can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Mental health disorders: Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are more common in women and have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Could birth control pills, pregnancy history (including any complications I had during my pregnancies), or menopause put women at greater risk for cardiovascular disease?
Yes, birth control pills, pregnancy history (including any complications during pregnancies), and menopause can all affect a woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Birth control pills: Some studies suggest that certain types of birth control pills may increase a woman’s risk for blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. However, this risk is generally small and depends on other factors such as age, smoking, and pre-existing medical conditions.
- Pregnancy history: Complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and preterm delivery, have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases later in life. Women who have had multiple pregnancies may also be at higher risk.
- Menopause: After menopause, a woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease increases. This is thought to be due in part to changes in hormone levels, which can affect blood vessels and cholesterol levels.
Other factors contributing to a woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, and family history of heart disease. It’s important for women to discuss their individual risk factors with their healthcare provider and take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage any medical conditions.
Why heart attack symptoms are sometimes missed in women?
There are several reasons why heart attack symptoms are sometimes missed in women. Some of these reasons include the following:
- Different symptoms: Women may experience different heart attack symptoms than men. While men typically experience chest pain or discomfort, women may experience more subtle symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, back or jaw pain, and lightheadedness. These symptoms may not be recognized as indicators of a heart attack, leading to a delayed diagnosis.
- Underestimation of risk: Women are often considered to have a lower risk of heart disease than men, leading to healthcare providers underestimating the possibility of a heart attack in women.
- Delay in seeking care: Women may delay seeking medical care when experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, possibly due to a lack of awareness of heart disease risk or misinterpretation of symptoms related to other conditions.
- Bias in research: Historically, heart disease research has focused primarily on men, which has led to a gap in understanding of how heart disease presents in women. As a result, healthcare providers may be less likely to recognize symptoms of heart disease in women.
Is there any correlation between heart disease and obesity?
Yes, there is a strong correlation between heart disease and obesity. Obesity is a significant risk factor for heart disease, and individuals who are obese have a higher risk of developing heart disease than those who are not obese.
Obesity can contribute to the development of heart disease in several ways. For example, obesity can increase the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes, all of which are major risk factors for heart disease. Obesity can also lead to inflammation and damage to the blood vessels, contributing to atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries and restricts blood flow.
In addition, obesity can cause the heart to work harder than it should, leading to an enlarged heart and heart failure. Obesity can also contribute to sleep apnea, associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy weight through a healthy diet and regular physical activity to reduce the risk of heart disease.
What are the ways to keep a woman’s heart healthy?
Maintaining a healthy heart is important for everyone, including women. Here are some ways to keep a woman’s heart healthy:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help lower the risk of heart disease.
- Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming, can help maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, and improve heart health.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, so quitting smoking can help reduce the risk.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease, so it is important to limit alcohol consumption.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of heart disease, so maintaining a healthy weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise is important.
- Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep is essential for overall health, including heart health.
- Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol: High blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease, so it is important to check them regularly and manage them if necessary.
- Stay up-to-date with regular check-ups: Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider can help detect and manage potential heart health issues early on.
By adopting these healthy lifestyle habits, women can help maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease.