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The heart of a woman the symptoms risk factors

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Take the right step Exercise helps prevent heart problems
Take the right step Exercise helps prevent heart problems

While the figures are not readily available, the incidence of heart related diseases in women is definitely on the rise, writes Pankaja Srinivasan

Did you know that Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) loves women? Probably not. Try this for size — in the U.K. and Europe, one woman dies every six minutes of heart disease. In the U.S., it is one every minute. Cardiovascular disease kills a higher percentage of women than men in many parts of the world, yet the strange thing is it is still considered a disease of men!

A discouraging trend

In India, there have been no conclusive studies, but the picture is not much rosier. According to cardio-thoracic surgeon P. Chandrasekar of G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Memorial Hospital (GKNM), Coimbatore, “Our observations have been that in the 1990s, out of approximately 20 by-pass surgeries performed, one has been on a woman. Today, it is one woman in six,” he says.

One of the reasons he cites for this rising trouble in the woman’s heart is the fact that Indian women do not exercise enough and are leading sedentary lives. Stands to reason, as compared to our grandmothers we don’t squat, bend, pound, haul and so on.

Now, we have gadgets to do all that, and activity is restricted to the press of a button, or a computer key. While we are eating better, we are certainly not working it all off.

While it is by no means sacrosanct, the general belief is that till she hits menopause, a woman is safe from heart disease. That is true, says J. Bhuvaneswaran, Head of Department, Cardiology, PSG Institute of Medical Sciences and Research. “Women are less vulnerable than men. That is because of the oestrogen they produce. But, after menopause, they are as much, if not more, prone to heart disease,” he says.

However, that does not entirely rule out the pre-menopausal woman. If a woman is diabetic, the pre-menopausal protection does not work, he warns. “Out of 100 women with heart trouble, 20 would be pre-menopausal of which 10 are diabetic”.

What about the other 10? “They probably have high cholesterol, blood pressure or other unspecified reasons. Women who use oral contraceptives are also at risk of hypertension that could lead to a heart problem,” says the doctor. “And, hormone replacement therapy offers no protection.” While annual pap smears and mammograms are recommended, what about regular tests for the woman’s heart? Says Rajpal K. Abhaichand (interventional cardiologist, GKNM Hospital), “Women need not have any specific test till menopause unless they have a strong family history, lipid abnormality or diabetes. If they do have one or more of these, then tests should be carried out every year, after they turn 40.”

And, what are these tests? The standard screening test for coronary disease is a Tread Mill Test (TMT). The doctors could also recommend an Echo Cardiogram, an E.C.G, an X-Ray and a blood test to check for diabetes and cholesterol. Heart disease is not reversible, but it can be checked, says Dr. Chandrasekar. How? “Maintain your weight, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, if you have to, take alcohol in moderation and keep a sharp look out for diabetes and cholesterol,” he says.

And he leaves us with a far from comforting bit of information — “If a man and a woman have both suffered a heart attack, chances are, he has a better chance of surviving the year, than she does!”

THE SYMPTOMS

Acidity-like discomfort

A vague pain and discomfort one can’t quite put a finger to

Pain following any

exertion, but one that

disappears with rest

Severe, unexplained back ache

Nausea

Extreme fatigue

A jaw/throat ache

RISK FACTORS

A history of heart disease in the family

Hypertension

Diabetes

Chewing tobacco, smoking or excessive drinking

High cholesterol

Obesity

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