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Cardiovascular disease: Mortality in women has increased due to gender disparity

According to the Lancet commission published in May 2021, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the major cause of mortality among women and is responsible for causing 35% of deaths in women each year worldwide

Amrita, a 39-year-old businesswoman, and mother of two kids was complaining of severe back pain for the last few months. She had pain from the lower back up to her shoulder. Due to business purposes, she travels frequently.

A week ago, while boarding her flight to Delhi from Mumbai, she experienced a sharp pain in her chest and after a while, she fainted at the airport. She was immediately taken to the hospital.

After a detailed examination, doctors declared she has survived a heart attack. Amrita and her husband both were shocked since Amrita is physically active and she is under regular medication for her hypertension.

So, why then did she have this issue? Was in stress – a natural occurrence in these times with our busy schedules? Also, Amrita’s husband had a question about women and heart disorders – to him, it was quite rare since heart disorders and heart attacks are mostly seen in men.

According to the Lancet commission published in May 2021, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the major cause of mortality among women and is responsible for causing 35% of deaths in women each year worldwide. “Only men are prone to cardiovascular diseases” is completely a myth now. CVD is the leading cause of mortality for both genders and women are equally vulnerable to cardiac disorders.

Signs and symptoms of CVD in women

Some of the world’s most populous nations, all of which are in Asia, have seen an increase in CVD in women, including China (10% increase), Indonesia (7%), and India (3%). According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about half (56%) of women recognize that heart disease is their number one killer.

Due to less awareness about the increased vulnerability of women to heart disorders, women are now experiencing heart failure or heart-related diseases at a very young age. This might be because the symptoms or the alarming factors of heart disease in women differ from men.

For instance, chest pain is a common symptom in heart attacks, but may not even be noticeable, particularly in women. Women are more likely to witness other symptoms like pain in the jaw, shoulder pain, upper back and upper abdomen pain, vomiting, sweating, dizziness, arms pain, indigestion, etc. and these are not as perceptible as symptoms linked to a heart attack.

Hence, these symptoms tend to be mistaken for other diseases. Therefore, women do not opt for timely diagnoses, the right therapies, and intervention opportunities, and eventually, that leads to high rates of mortality.

The common risk factors causing cardiovascular diseases in women

Several pre-existing health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and obesity enhance the risk for CVD both in men and women. But, apart from all these, there are many other risk factors, especially in women i.e., mental stress, poor sleep, less physical activity, smoking, genetic factors, menopause, etc. and all of these can potentially be the reason for CVD.

Diagnosis and treatment options for women? Are they different from men?

There is not much difference in the treatment options for women with heart disease. Electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram, angiography, and optical coherence tomography (OCT) are the major diagnostic technologies. Once the heart condition is diagnosed, depending on the type and severity of the disease, the treatment might include medications and other procedures like percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)/angioplasty and stenting, or coronary bypass surgery.

How to address gender disparity?

Despite the notable rise in heart-related diseases in women, however, the awareness about the risks of developing cardiac issues in them is still very low. To address the knowledge gap around women’s vulnerability to heart disorders, it is important for women to go for routine check-ups.

Doctors are also responsible for thoroughly examining the patient coming with any of the above-mentioned symptoms, providing the correct solutions to them, and re-iterating the importance of regular health screening. Awareness is critical so that women reach out for help at the right time – and to the right person.

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