Heart Smarts for Women

Sort the Myths From the Facts About Heart Health and Women

Heart disease is not just a man’s problem; in fact, more women than men die each year from cardiovascular disease. One in three adult women has some form of cardiovascular disease, yet many women do not associate new or different physical symptoms with their heart. Since women often experience different symptoms than men, it is important to make the connection so heart disease does not go ignored or undertreated.

At University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, we are committed to excellence in providing quality care for our patients. Part of that means empowering women to separate the myths from the facts about heart health. After all, it is not just true that heart disease can affect women, heart disease can affect you.

MYTH: Heart palpitations are just a sign of stress.

FACT: A racing heartbeat can be a sign of an arrhythmia, or heart rhythm disorder. When women complain of palpitations, they may be diagnosed with panic attacks or told they are just nervous or anxious. In fact, they may have a true heart rhythm disorder that can be treated.

Less than half of people with palpitations actually have arrhythmias. But the only way to know whether you have a treatable heart rhythm disturbance is to be evaluated by your internist or cardiologist, who can send you home with a monitor for recording and assessing your heart rhythms.

MYTH: All heart attacks feel the same – like an elephant is sitting on your chest.
MYTH: Estrogen protects your heart.

FACT: It depends on which side of menopause a women is on. Before menopause, it is true that estrogen has a protective effect against heart disease. Compared with men, women’s risk is delayed by about 10 years, but once a woman is postmenopausal, she catches up very quickly to her male counterparts.

After menopause, women become more likely than before to develop plaque and clots in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Boosting estrogen levels with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) does not help the heart, as it does not restore a woman’s risk to a premenopausal state. In fact, research has linked HRT to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke as well as breast cancer. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that women who use HRT use the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible duration. Before considering HRT, your doctor will help you evaluate any health conditions or inherited risks that would outweigh its benefits.

MYTH: Young women do not need to worry about heart disease.

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