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  • Writer's pictureEric Goulder, MD, FACC

Heart Talk- February 2023

Lifesaving Facts About Heart Disease Every Woman Should Know

Which is a bigger threat to women: breast cancer or heart disease? If you answered, “heart disease,” congratulations! You are better informed than most U.S. women, according to a recent study by the American Heart Association (AHA). The researchers compared the results of two national surveys, taken 10 years apart, and found an alarming decline in women’s awareness of key facts about their No. 1 health threat. In 2009, 65 percent of the women surveyed were aware that heart disease is the leading killer of US women, claiming TEN TIMES as many women’s lives each year as breast cancer does. A 2019 poll, however, found that awareness had decreased to 44 percent. Younger women were particularly likely to be in the dark about their risk — even though heart attack rates in this group are on the rise!

Fact: Women have different heart attack symptoms than men do.

A recent study of young heart attack survivors found that women had a higher number of non-chest symptoms than men, including nausea, stomach pain, esophageal pressure and burning, shortness of breath and anxiety. The key takeaway for women is that if you feel different than ever before, consider that it might be your heart. Studies have shown that women can develop early warning symptoms days, weeks or even months before a heart attack, and that medical providers often fail to take those symptoms seriously, including unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances and unexplained anxiety or a sense of impending doom. Consult your medical provider if you have any of these issues and ask to be checked for heart problems. At the time of a heart attack, common symptoms in women include shortness of breath, abdominal pain and heavy sweating. Having any of these symptoms warrants an immediate call to 911 and emergency care. In the ER, tell the staff that you think you are having a heart attack and insist on being checked for one. Prompt treatment can be lifesaving.

Fact: Women are being identified as being at high risk AFTER they have already had a heart attack or stroke.

All too often, heart disease doesn’t cause any symptoms until it becomes severe enough to cause a heart attack or stroke. That’s why early detection and treatment is the key to protecting your heart health. Our advice is, “Be bold — ask for the test.” It’s important — and potentially lifesaving — to advocate for yourself. It’s also important to be aware of female-specific red flags for cardiovascular (CV) danger. Recent studies have identified a wide range of conditions that can signal increased risk for CV events, including those listed below. If you have any of these conditions, you could benefit from a comprehensive evaluation with the BaleDoneen Method to check for hidden signs of heart disease or increased risk for developing it:

• Migraine headaches with aura. Middle-aged women who experience migraine with aura have a 90 percent increased risk for having a stroke later in life.

• A high resting pulse. Women with a resting pulse of 76 beats per minute or higher are at 26 percent higher risk for heart attack, with the highest risk in women ages 50 to 64, regardless of their physical activity level.

• Polycystic ovaria syndrome (PCOS). This disorder is linked to increased risk for obesity, diabetes, and cholesterol abnormalities. In addition, women with PCOS are three times more likely to have heart disease than those without this condition.

• Pregnancy complications. Pregnancy is a stress test on the heart. Women who experience high blood pressure during pregnancy have a 67 percent higher risk for developing heart disease, while preeclampsia magnifies risk for dying from heart disease later in life. Gestational diabetes doubles risk for developing type 2 diabetes and boosts heart disease risk by 68 percent,

• Pre-term birth. Delivering a baby before 37 weeks of gestation is linked to a two-fold increase in risk for heart disease and dying from it, even when adjusted for pre-pregnancy lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors. Pregnancy loss (miscarriage and stillbirth) doubles risk for heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.

• Early menopause. Going into menopause at age 40-44 is linked to 55 percent higher CV risk.

• Caregiving later in life. Being the caregiver for your parents, spouse or other family members is associated with a 17 percent increased risk for heart disease and 36 percent increased risk for stroke over the next few years.

• Autoimmune diseases. The effect of these conditions on CV risk varies according to which condition you have. For example, women with lupus are up to 50 times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those without this disease, while heart attack risk is doubled in those with Sjögren’s syndrome

Fact: Your dental provider can help lower your risk for heart attacks, strokes, and dementia!

A recent peer-reviewed BaleDoneen study has been called “landmark” because it was the first to identify oral bacteria from periodontal (gum) disease as a contributing cause of heart disease — not just a risk factor for developing it. Earlier research, including a scientific statement by the American Heart Association, has shown a strong, independent association between PD, which affects the majority of U.S. adults over age 30, and CV events. In fact, a 2016 meta-analysis that pooled studies of more than 7,000 people found those with periodontitis were more than twice as likely to suffer heart attacks, compared to people with healthy gums! Another study found that older adults with healthy teeth and gums outlive those with poor oral health. Good oral health, including frequent visits to your dental provider and excellent home care, is crucial to prevent or control blood-vessel inflammation. To take your oral-systemic wellness to the next level of excellence, we recommend following our easy, four-step plan. As we previously reported, recent studies suggest that early diagnosis and treatment of gum disease may reduce your risk for developing many debilitating disorders, including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

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