Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in women and men worldwide exceeding the number of deaths from all cancers combined. It is still considered a disease of men and there has been little recognition of its importance in women. In the UK , cardiovascular disease is responsible for almost 198,000 deaths each year . Coronary heart disease remains the most common cause of death in the UK with approximately one in seven women dying from the disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of premature death (before the age of 75) in the UK , with 10% of premature deaths in women. Coronary heart disease kills 3.5 times more women than breast cancer. Despite these figures, many women lack the basic awareness that heart disease is their biggest killer with their main fear being breast cancer.
There are a number of risk factors which can increase the likelihood of developing heart disease. These include, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, family history of heart disease and lack of exercise. Post menopausal women also have a higher risk of developing heart disease compared to pre menopausal women. It is important that women attempt to modify their risk factors early in life in order to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Women are more likely to present with atypical symptoms compared to men. As well as chest pain, women can present with shortness of breath, neck and jaw pain, upper back pain, abdominal pain, nausea and fatigue. In addition, because of decreased awareness, women are still less likely to seek medical help when they have symptoms.
There is no doubt that better education and awareness as well as more aggressive control of risk factors is desperately needed to tackle this potentially fatal disease.