Interview: Understanding how Ischemic Heart Disease is Different In Women

women are more prone to Ischemic Heart Disease than men.
women are more prone to Ischemic Heart Disease than men.

When it comes to heart health, even with the advancement of science and technology there are still many lesser known facts. For example, how many of us know what Ischemic Heart Disease is?

To begin with, Ischemic Heart Disease is the most common cause of death for many men and women in various countries. Also termed as a Coronary Artery Disease, it is an ailment that disturbs the supply of blood to the heart.

The blood vessels get squeezed or congested owing to the admission of cholesterol in the walls, which in turn decreases the stream of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscles, which is essential for proper functioning of the heart.

Keeping aside the obvious facts, it’s important to note that women are more prone to Ischemic Heart Disease than men and that’s why today, Dr Sandeep Attawar, Director & HOD, Cardio Thoracic Vascular Surgery, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon answers a few questions about heart health and why when it comes to Ischemic Heart Disease, women are more susceptible.

1. Is cardiovascular disease a bigger threat to women?

A. Today, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer worldwide. And more women than men die within one year of having a heart attack, if untreated. Of the survivors, more women than men develop heart failure within five years of their first heart attack.

The disconnect is further exemplified by the American Heart Association’s recent study – only 13% women consider cardiovascular disease as a serious threat. 87% of women consider breast cancer or uterine and cervical cancer as an ever present danger!

2. Cardiac symptoms in women are different from those in men. Is that true?

A. Yes. A heart attack, technically a myocardial infarction, is the complete blockage of a coronary artery. Symptoms can take different forms. One may not feel the classic chest pain radiating to the inner side of your left arm, especially in women.

It could just be an intense pressure on the chest. Some women could only as much feel as a sudden tightening of their brassiere, it could also be described as a sudden heavy weight on the chest. There are some accompanying symptoms such as breathing difficulty, extreme fatigue and weakness, maybe even dizziness.

There are other conditions to mimic or imitate this discomfort like indigestion, hyperacidity and heart burn (fairly common in our society given our diet, eating patterns and sedentary lifestyle).

While these are common to men and women, the problem is women tend to attribute any sign of discomfort to these mimicking conditions and resort to
home remedies.

3. How is Angina in women different?
A. It is not always chest pain that women feel when they have heart disease or experience angina or a heart attack. Most women with heart disease are diabetic. Diabetes per se, is known to mask symptoms of a heart attack as the disease damages nerves that carry the sensation and warning signals of angina to your brain.

Chest pain related to a heart attack results from physical exertion, as the heart cannot handle the demand for increased blood flow. If you suspect a heart attack, get an ambulance and see your physician.

4. What are the risk factors that govern cardiac illness?

A. Risk factors can be divided into two basic categories:
1. Non Modifiable Risks – These are factors that cannot be changed.

  • Age and genetics (for e.g.  a strong family history of heart disease in a male parent or a male sibling below 55 years  or a female parent or sibling  below 65 years)
  •  Women prior to menopause are at a lesser risk due to the protective effect of estrogen.
  • Women after menopause have twice the risk of cardiovascular disease than men.

2. Modifiable Risks – These are factors that can be changed or treated.

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  •  Physical inactivity
  •  High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated cholesterol levels

All said and done, it’s important to note that when it comes to women, a poor lifestyle is the main cause of Ischemic Heart Disease.

Some of the main culprits like a diet rich in fats, smoking, stress should be avoided as much as possible. Cholesterol and hypertension should be kept in check with the help of a doctor.

*This article was first published on


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