Actress Sushmita Sen took to Instagram to share that she suffered a heart attack a few days back. Over one crore annual deaths are reported in India due to cardiovascular diseases. Yes, the risk of heart diseases to both sexes is high, but heart diseases affect men and women differently. However, today, Indian women are rubbing shoulders with men in terms of heart diseases, especially in the urban population.
TC46 connected with Interventional Cardiologist Dr Atul Limaye of Fortis Hospital, Mumbai. Here, he addresses some vital questions about heart conditions among women, the difference in the symptoms of a heart attack between the two genders and lifestyle choices that ensure proper heart health.
1. Coronary Artery Disease & Congestive Heart Failure Affect Women The Most
Broadly speaking, blockages in coronary arteries—Coronary Artery Disease, and reduced pumping function of the heart–Congestive Heart Failure, are two common conditions that affect women the most. Older women are particularly vulnerable to the stiffness of heart muscles that give rise to shortness of breath with minimal exertion.
2. Top 5 Habits & Practices A Woman Should Include In Her Heart Health Checklist
- Eat A Healthy Diet: Choose an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lentils, and pulses; minimise the intake of junk foods, sweets (mithai), salted snacks (mixtures/farsan), and meat. Also, avoid processed foods, red meat, saturated fats, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.
- Exercise Regularly: Incorporate moderate level exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, on most days of the week. Engaging in higher intensity exercises fewer times a week or playing a vigorous sport such as tennis, badminton or squash is an excellent way to achieve these targets.
- Know Your Numbers: Be aware of your blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol levels and if high, take your medications as prescribed, such as blood pressure medications, cholesterol-lowering medicines, or diabetes meds regularly without skipping.
- Manage Your Stress: Stress can increase your risk of heart disease. Yoga and meditation, along with daily exercise, are the best ways to mitigate this.
- Maintain A Healthy Weight: If you’re overweight, losing even a few kilos can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes. Eliminate tobacco products and minimise alcohol intake.
3. The Symptoms Of A Heart Attack In Women Differ From Men
The most common heart attack symptom in women remains the same as in men – chest pressure or tightness or chest discomfort that comes and goes, sometimes at rest and exacerbated with exertion.
However, women tend to have more ‘atypical’ symptoms which are not always centred around the chest, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual fatigue or tiredness
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort
These symptoms may differ from men. The reason believed is in addition to blockages in the ‘epicardial’ arteries (the bigger arteries supplying the heart muscle), women also tend to have ‘microvascular’ dysfunction, ie. blockages or abnormalities in the smaller/ microvessels of the heart. Emotional stress can play a role in triggering heart attack symptoms in women. Since their symptoms often differ from men’s, women might be diagnosed less often with heart disease than men.
4. Top 5 Lifestyle Choices That Hamper Heart Health In Women
- Eating An Unhealthy Diet: A diet rich in processed foods, red meat, saturated fats, added sugars, and high amounts of salt, in the long term can cause heart disease.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: No exertional activity or minimal exertion as a lifestyle, is extremely harmful to heart health.
- No Health Check-ups: Health check-ups need not be extensive; just a basic awareness of one’s blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar numbers is a good start.
- Unhealthy Stress Levels: Being perpetually stressed can increase your risk of heart disease.
- Smoking & Drinking: Tobacco products or excessive alcohol negatively affects heart health directly.
5. Household Responsibilities During The Pandemic Contributed To Heart Conditions Among Indian Women
The pandemic has caused unprecedented hardship to all families and disproportionately to women. With the lockdowns, an increasing responsibility to keep households running without any help, caused many women to postpone health care for themselves. This has meant less time for lifestyle changes (less time to focus on a healthy diet, exercise regularly, checking blood pressure, getting blood tests done) and more time for stress levels to increase.