WOMEN’S RISK OF HEART DISEASE IS ON THE INCREASE
With September being National Heart Awareness Month, it’s an appropriate time to improve women’s awareness of CVD, which in so many cases is preventable. With cardiovascular disease (CVD) claiming the lives of about 110 women in South Africa every day, it can no longer be considered a “man’s disease”. Current rates suggest that more women are dying of heart disease than men and that they’re unlikely to survive their first attack.
How so? Dr Suzette Fourie, a prominent SA cardiologist, offers a plausible explanation: “The problem could be two-fold. Either doctors are misdiagnosing women or women are misinterpreting heart attack signs.
“A heart attack often presents itself differently in women. Typical symptoms such as tightness, discomfort or chest pain may not be present; instead there could be a wide range of sensations, which could include an uneasy feeling in the chest, abdominal pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck or jaw, a fluttering heartbeat, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, cold sweats or even swollen feet.
“As these symptoms could be related to any number of illnesses, women tend to dismiss the fact that they may be sick and often delay going to the hospital, which increases their risk of dying as a result of a heart attack.
“Heart disease in men is more often due to blockages in their coronary arteries – known as coronary artery disease (CAD), while women more frequently develop heart disease within the smaller arteries that branch out from the coronary arteries, which is referred to as microvascular disease (MVD).”
Dr Fourie says it’s time that women change their perceptions around heart disease. “We need to put the fact that we are vulnerable to heart disease on our radar screens and recognise the signs at the earliest stage. Making women more aware of the risks, the symptoms and how to take better care of our hearts should be a priority for every woman.
“You are never too young or too old to take care of your heart. Making smart choices now will pay off for the rest of your life,” concludes Fourie.
Shocking stats paint stark reality of heart disease in SA:
- Approximately 6.3 million South Africans are living with high blood pressure (source: Heart and Stroke Foundation SA)
- 42% of women in SA are considered obese (source: Medical Research Council)
- One in four women will have some form of heart condition before the age of 60 and once they reach menopause the risk of heart disease increases threefold (source: Heart and Stroke Foundation SA)
- Premature deaths due to heart and blood vessel diseases in people of working age (35 – 64 years) are expected to increase by 41% between now and 2030 (source: Heart and Stroke Foundation)
- Statistics show that about 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes occur daily in SA, which means that 10 people will suffer a stroke and five will have a heart attack every hour (source: Heart and Stroke Foundation SA)