Menopausal Cardiac Health
Most women nearing menopause begin to fear certain health issues. The one that figures largest in their imagination is probably breast cancer. But the fact is that the most common cause of death for women over the age of 50 isn’t cancer: it’s cardiovascular disease. Women tend not to picture themselves as vulnerable to stroke or heart attack; but if you’re a woman and menopausal, maybe it’s time you started.
Until they hit the age of 45, women have an advantage over men in that they are somewhat protected from the risk of heart disease. But after menopause, the gap between the sexes narrows until at 65, the risk for stroke and heart attack is nearly the same for men and women. Perhaps women need to be even more vigilant than men when it comes to heart disease because the medical community is only now waking up to the fact that more women are dying from heart attack than ever before but their symptoms manifest differently than men’s symptoms.
The symptoms of heart attack in women are subtle and it’s very easy for a woman to dismiss these symptoms as “just feeling a bit under the weather.” Unlike men, women don’t often have crushing chest pain or pain running down the left arm. Here are the signs of heart attack in women:
*A sensation of burning pain in the abdomen
*Upper back pain sometimes in the neck or shoulder blade, may be more a feeling of discomfort
*Feeling dizzy or faint
*Anxiety or feeling as though something is very wrong
*Nausea and/or vomiting
When women do seek help for these subtle signs of heart attack, they may be misdiagnosed. Even when they are given a correct diagnosis they may be given an inappropriate treatment. Because women often wait too long before seeking help, the treatments they are given may not be as effective. Some medications are known to be more effective at the beginning of a heart attack and ineffective at a later stage. Some anticoagulant medications are known to perform better in men.
The usual diagnostic tests for cardiovascular damage, for instance the stress test and the angiography, are not as effective for women as they are for men. Female blood vessels can look clean on an angiography but may have a hidden plaque lining. If the plaque does not protrude into the vessel it will not be seen on an angiography. Therefore, these tests can give a false impression of cardiac health even when significant disease is present.