Is gender involved in coronary artery disease?

Women are generally older when they have their first heart attack 

The average age for a heart attack in women is 70, whilst for men it’s 66. 

A lot of people are unaware that oestrogen offers some protection for women from heart disease, until after they have gone through the menopause, when their oestrogen levels naturally decline.

The symptoms of heart attack can be different in women 

Men often describe their chest pain during a heart attack as being a crushing weight on the chest. 

Some women also experience chest pain, but they are more likely to have different, more subtle symptoms for 3-4 weeks prior to a heart attack. 

Some red flags to look out for:

  • New or dramatic fatigue 

For example, activities such as making a bed makes you feel unusually tired. You aren’t exerting yourself, but you feel deeply fatigued or with a “heavy” chest. You may feel very tired, suffer from not sleeping well or are suddenly worn out after a normal exercise routine. 

  • Shortness of breath or sweating 

This symptom is likely to occur without exertion and when either symptom is accompanied by chest pains or fatigue, look out for it. This could worsen over time. Other signs are shortness of breath when lying down, relieve when sitting up and a cold, clammy feeling that occurs without cause. 

  • Pain in the neck, back or jaw 

This is worth noting when there is no specific muscle or joint that aches or when the discomfort worsens when you are physically exerting yourself and stops when you stop. 

Men usually experience pain in the left, women can also experience this in either arm. Also, keep an eye out for pain that starts in the chest and spreads to the back, pain that occurs suddenly and may wake you up at night and pain in the lower left side of the jaw. 

CAD in women is sometimes hard to diagnose

An angiogram is the gold standard test for finding narrowing’s or blockages in the heart’s large arteries. 

However, in women CAD often only affects the small arteries, which cannot be clearly seen on an angiogram. Often, women are given the “all clear” signal after an angiogram and continue to have symptoms. If you’re experiencing symptoms, you should see a Cardiologist who specialises in women’s heart disease to carry out further tests and who can fully advise. 

A heart attack is harder on women than men 

Women tend to suffer more than men after a heart attack. It’s often noted that they require longer hospital stays and they’re more likely to pass away before leaving the hospital. Women who suffer a heart attack also having more underlying and therefore untreated risk factors such as: diabetes or high blood pressure. This can sometimes be a result of not putting themselves and their health first. 

Women don’t always get the right medication after a heart attack 

Women have a much greater risk of developing blood clots after a heart attack. It’s suggested that for whatever reason, women are not as likely to be provided with medication to prevent such clots when they leave the hospital. This could explain why women are more likely to have a heart attack within 12 months than men. 

How to protect yourself from a heart attack

Obviously, reading the above does ring some alarm bells, especially for women who could be likely to experience a heart attack. However, there are some ways in which you can protect yourself and lower your risk of a heart attack

  • Stop smoking or don’t start
  • Get regular exercise, at minimum walk for 30 mins a day 
  • Eat a balanced diet, that is high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fish and low in animal products, simple carbs and processed foods
  • Maintain a normal weight, blood pressure, blood lipid and blood sugar levels

Something that’s hugely important is to visit a Cardiologist as soon as you experience any symptoms or have any concerns!