It’s been a long-time misconception that heart disease was a man’s disease often causing women to be left out of clinical trials. But the fact of the matter is that heart disease is the number one killer of American women, causing about one in every five deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What’s more, the statistics are even more unsettling for Black women, according to the American Heart Association:
- Cardiovascular diseases kill nearly 50,000 African American women annually.
- Of African American women ages 20 and older, 49 percent have heart diseases.
- Only 1 in 5 African American women believes she is personally at risk.
- Only 58% of African American women are aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
- Only 36% of African American women know that heart disease is their greatest health risk.
The challenges of getting women diagnosed
Despite the fact that more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined, an online study of 300 randomly selected physicians (mostly primary care and obstetricians/gynecologists) found that these doctors were less attentive to women’s risk factors for both heart and cardiovascular conditions.
“Part of the problem is that it [cardiovascular disease] goes undiagnosed more in women,” says Dr. Mistyann-Blue Miller, an interventional cardiologist with Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston. “They don’t present with the expected symptoms, and it’s not uncommon for those symptoms to be attributed to something else.”
The fact is women often have different symptoms than men. Men tend to suffer pain or pressure in the chest during a heart attack while women may experience dizziness, nausea, fatigue and shortness of breath. This often results in women getting a late diagnosis and/or suffering devastating consequences.
Dr. Marie Delgado-Lelievre, a cardiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, remembers a time when this happened to one of her patients. The woman, who was in her 50s, came in to get her high blood pressure, which seemed to be her only symptom checked. However, the consultation revealed that she was also suffering from shortness of breath and occasional chest pains.
Dr. Delgado-Lelievre ordered a stress test and cardiac catheterization procedure, which determined the patient needed open-heart surgery.
“This happens more frequently than we think,” she shares.
Time is of the essence
Cardiologists note that time is crucial when dealing with a heart attack or stroke and are urging women — and their physicians — to