Heart disease: the top killer for women

Posted by: smilie on 02/28/2006 - 03:27 AM

“There is no definite age for women to start having regular check-ups. They could start at 30, 35 or 40 and then their doctor will guide them accordingly. They may do a stress test in their 30s but won’t have to do one every year. The doctor will guide them when it’s necessary to come back for another one. In the meantime, their weight, blood cholesterol level, diet and exercise levels will be monitored.”

Dr Anstassiades said it was good to have a follow-up every couple of years, and that women over 50 should definitely see a cardiologist. “After menopause, an annual check-up is essential,” he said. “Even having a check-up as young as 30 is a good idea, as it gives the cardiologist a reference for future comparison and allows the doctor to find if his patient has hypertension or high cholesterol levels and doesn’t know it, or if she smokes and has any hereditary predispositions.”

Major risk factors for coronary artery disease are the same for men and women, he said. These include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Coronary artery disease is unusual in premenopausal women, particularly in the absence of other risk factors. But developing the condition after menopause is a well-documented occurrence, he said, adding the role of female hormones remained a confusing issue.

Dr Anastassiades said the usual symptoms of heart attack were chest discomfort, a pressure-like feeling in the chest, squeezing or tightness-like pain in the centre of the chest that lasts longer than a few minutes. The pain may spread to the shoulders, the neck, the jaw, the arms and may be accompanied by cold sweat, nausea and vomiting.

“Women displaying these symptoms should seek advice, preferably from a cardiologist, so that the doctor can assess whether these symptoms are related to the heart in any way,” he said.

Dr Anastassiades said there was also a misperception that coronary artery disease is a less painful, quicker way of dying than cancer. “However, in reality, heart disease can cause years of disability, pain and a decreased quality of life. People tend to survive a heart attack and then become heart cripples. They go into congestive heart failure because part of the heart muscle dies as a result of the heart attack and then they live with what remains of a much weakened heart muscle. This leads to shortness of breath, reduced effort tolerance, gasping for air brought on by minimal exertion, sitting upright in bed and the legs get swollen with oedema.”

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