Heart disease is known to be one of the leading causes of death amongst women worldwide. However, nearly 50% of women remain unaware of their risk of developing heart disease. New research shows that visiting your Ob-Gyn for a checkup can actually be a lifesaver for women who are at a risk for heart disease. It has now become clear that hormonal issues and pregnancy are big indicators of whether or not you are at a risk of developing heart disease. Many indicators of heart disease risks actually show up even decades before you actually experience a cardiac incident. We take a look at some of these indicators and how a visit to your ob-gyn can lower your risk of heart disease.
Risk & Associated Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women
All women face the threat of heart disease, but some are at a higher risk than other. By being aware of these risks and symptoms of heart disease that are unique to women, it becomes easier to protect oneself.
While women also face the traditional risk factors for heart disease as men, there are certain factors that have a bigger role to play in the development of heart disease in women. Some of the risk factors for heart disease in women include:
Menopause: The lower levels of estrogen after menopause are a significant risk factor for developing heart disease in women, particularly coronary microvascular disease, that is, in the smaller blood vessels.
Complications in Pregnancy: Diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy is known to increase the risk of heart disease for the mother.
Mental Stress and Depression: Women’s hearts are affected greatly by depression and stress when compared to men’s. When suffering from depression, women also find it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle that will lower their risk of heart disease. This is why it is so important to get treated for depression.
Diabetes: Women who have diabetes are at a higher risk of developing heart disease as compared to men who have diabetes.
Broken Heart Syndrome: Often brought upon by extremely stressful conditions, this condition actually occurs quite commonly in women, particularly after the onset of menopause. Also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, stress cardiomyopathy, or apical ballooning syndrome, the condition increases the risk of heart muscle failure.
Inactivity and Smoking: Both these risk factors are also common to men. A lack of physical activity is considered to be a big risk factor for heart disease in women. In fact, studies have shown that women are actually more inactive than men. Smoking is also a greater risk factor for women than men.
How Can an OB-GYN visit lower your risk of Heart Disease?
Yes, an OB-GYN visit can lower the risk of heart disease in women, as studies have shown that certain indicators of heart disease risk actually become apparent even decades before you actually experience any cardiac event. This is particularly true during pregnancy or during menopause. Even the development of hormonal issues such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can be an indicator of heart disease risk. However, in spite of being aware of these risks, women rarely understand their heart health risk and seldom undertake the steps required to lower their risk of developing heart conditions, such as a heart attack or a stroke.
Keeping these low statistics in mind and to help spread awareness about these risks, the American Heart Association (AHA) has decided to partner with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to spread awareness about the crucial role that obstetricians-gynecologists (OB-GYNs) have to play in preventing heart disease in women. Both the organizations have issued an advisory that encourages OB-GYNs to counsel and screen their patients on heart health during the annual check-up that most women undergo once a year. It is during these annual visits, OB-GYNs undertake a pelvic and abdominal examination and also counsel their patients on reproductive health, sexual health, and any other issues the patients may be facing. Patients also have their blood pressure and weight measured during these examinations, as well as have their lifestyle habits and health history recorded. OB-GYNs also counsel women about health issues and lifestyle choices they should undertake in order to live a better quality of life and lower their risks for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and other lifestyle-related conditions.
This is why most OB-GYNs recommend women for having an annual checkup as it provides critical medical care and attention for many women, who may not be consulting any other types of physicians during the remainder of the year. As per the AHA and ACOG, these women who are not consulting any other physicians during the year, this annual OB-GYN check-up will help empower them by providing them with preventive care and by helping them identify any risk factors. It is believed that this step will also help prevent long-term mortality and morbidity from cardiovascular disease by ensuring that women get the medical attention they would have otherwise gotten from a primary care provider. So this is how an OB-GYN visit can greatly lower the risk of heart disease in women.
Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women
Symptoms of heart disease are different in women as compared to those in men. The most common symptom of heart attack in women is pain or/and pressure or feelings of discomfort in the chest. However, while this is one of the most common symptoms, it is not necessarily the most prominent symptom amongst women. In fact, women are more likely to have symptoms of heart attack that are unrelated to chest pain. These symptoms include:
- Discomfort in the neck, shoulder, jaw, abdomen or the upper back.
- Pain in both or one arm.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Shortness of breath.
- Unusual levels of fatigue.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
These symptoms in women tend to be more subtle when compared to the more obvious chest pain. Symptoms of heart disease in women are likely to occur when women are in a resting state or sometimes even when they are asleep. Mental stress is also known to be a big trigger of heart attack symptoms in women.
These measures put in place by the AHA and ACOG is likely to prove helpful in cutting down the risk of heart disease in thousands of women who do not opt for any other type of primary health care. This is how an annual checkup at OB-GYNs can help you get screened and evaluated for potential risk of heart disease. Therefore, it is recommended that women do not skip this crucial once-a-year examination with their OB-GYN.