The Heart of a Woman

Did you know that by the time a woman reaches 65, she has a 1 in 3 chance of developing cardiovascular disease? Did you also know that this deadly disease kills 2.5 times more women than all cancers combined? And that in a developed country like The United States of America, more women than men have died of cardiovascular disease every single year from 1984?

It is well known that before menopause, women are protected to a large extent from getting heart disease by hormones such as oestrogen. Once this protection has gone after menopause, the risk of getting cardiovascular disease is similar to that of men.

If you ask people on the street what they think is the main cause of death for women, the most popular answer is likely to be breast cancer. In their minds, heart disease is a man’s disease just as breast cancer is a woman’s disease.

So why doesn’t heart disease get as much publicity and attention as breast cancer? Heart disease affects postmenopausal women, especially the elderly, whereas breast cancer sufferers are mostly women who are working and many of them hold high profile careers. When someone with breast cancer dies, it provokes a very strong emotion.

Breast cancer campaigns in general have been very well planned and executed. The dedicated and passionate people who have put breast cancer in the forefront have done an excellent job. Their task has been made easier since the target audience is younger women who represent lucrative commercial markets. Therefore, seeking funds has been relatively easy.

However, let us get this straight. This is not an attempt to downplay the importance and danger of breast or other cancers. What I wish to put across is that ignorance of the main killer in women is widespread and is itself a disease with no imminent cure.

Whilst we know now that heart disease affects both men and women in a devastating manner, there are a few differences that by and large make the management of heart disease in women a real challenge.

  • Unlike men, the symptom presentation for women is not typical of cardiovascular disease. Women, in general, have symptoms which are less straightforward, making evaluation and diagnosis difficult. Stable angina (chest pain on exertion) is the most frequent initial manifestation of CHD in women whereas heart attack and sudden death are usually associated with men.
  • Exercise ECG testing has higher false positive rate (ie. wrongly labeling the test as abnormal) in women than in men.
  • Women do not do as well as men after a heart attack. There is a higher rate of death which is attributed to late presentation to the hospital as many of them have symptoms which are not typical. The average age of presentation for heart attack in women is about 10 years older; therefore, influencing the survival outcome.

Once we understand the actual situation and accept the fact that heart disease affects men and women pretty much equally, the rest is quite simple. Take note of the following 5 heart-healthy steps whether you have an XY or XX chromosome:

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet with a high intake of fruits and vegetables. Avoid the 3Gs – Gula, Garam and Goreng.
  • Exercise regularly. Try to do 20-30 minutes of continuous exercise – brisk walking, jogging, cycling or swimming – most days in a week. If you are already doing it, then do a bit more.
  • Lose weight if you are above the limit. Maintain a healthy weight by constantly watching what you eat and exercise regularly to burn the excess calories.
  • Stop smoking if you are. There are cheaper ways to harm yourself! The 4,000 over chemical poisons in a cigarette can and will predispose you to getting deadly diseases such as heart attack, stroke, gangrene, lung cancer, stomach cancer and many others. If you have friends who are recalcitrant smokers, look for new ones.
  • See a doctor in sickness and in health. Half of my patients who came in with a heart attack did not have any prior symptoms. For them, the first symptom was the heart attack. Take charge of your health by visiting your doctor regularly.

If you require an ambulance service, dial our 24-hr Emergency Hotline at +603-6287 1999. Our dedicated ambulance service is well-equipped with experienced paramedics and well-trained emergency medical staff to deliver a wide range of medical services in times of emergencies. For more info, kindly contact our Expatriate Liaison, Sarah at 018-2111 259.

Dr Muhilan Parameswaran

Consultant Urologist
Resident Consultant
MBBS (India) , FAGE (Manipal) , MRCS (Edin) , M.S (Malaya) , Board Certified Urologist (M’sia) , FRCS (Urology) (Glaslow) , Fellow Laparascopic Surgery (India) , Fellowship in Urology (Austria)
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Level 1 - S7
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English, Malay

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