Silent Risk: Women and Heart Disease
Heart disease kills half a million American women each year. So why are women more afraid of breast cancer?
Heart disease in women - the numbers are staggering.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease, hypertension and stroke,
is the number one killer of women, according to the American Heart Association.
It kills half a million American women each year. That figure exceeds the next
seven causes of death combined. Moreover, women are 15% more likely than men to
die of a heart attack. And they are twice as likely to have a second heart
attack in the six years following the first.
Yet in a 2000 national heart association survey, only 34% of
women correctly identified heart disease as a leading cause of death.
And "only 8% of women saw it as their biggest health
threat," says cardiologist Sharonne Hayes, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic
Women's Heart Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "There's a disconnect. They know
it's a major disease, but they think they're going to die of breast
Major issues surrounding women's heart health and medical care
were brought to light in a survey of 204 women with heart disease reported in
the January/February 2003 issue of Women's Health Issues. Hayes, who is
Director of Mayo Clinic Women's Heart Clinic in Rochester, Minn., co-authored
the report, funded by WomenHeart: The National Coalition
for Women With Heart Disease. Among the issues women raised were:
- Mental illness resulting from heart disease
- Failure to diagnose heart disease
- Problems related to physicians' attitudes
- Dissatisfaction with medical care, including major hurdles in getting
support for recovery
Hayes says that awareness about women's
heart health is gradually growing among women and healthcare professionals, but
there's much room for improvement.
Mental Health and the Heart
One survey result has already changed how Hayes conducts her
practice. She was surprised by the high percentage of women -- 57% -- who said
they suffered depression, anxiety or both as a result of heart disease.
"Following the survey, our women's heart clinic got a psychologist much
more integrated in terms of evaluating patients and giving us cardiologists
some insight into mental illness that we're not trained for."
That insight may help explain why only 14% of women made
lifestyle changes following a heart attack. "If you're depressed, you're
unlikely to be able to make the lifestyle changes that you need to prevent
another heart attack," says Hayes. But the knowledge should now help
healthcare professionals see and treat mental health problems brought on by
Kathy Kastan was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder
following heart bypass surgery. (This condition is a form of anxiety brought on
by a traumatic or life-threatening event.)
In spite of being a psychotherapist herself, the 44-year-old
wife and mother didn't recognize the signs of the condition until the second
year after her surgery. "The first year I was in shock," she says.
"When you go through trauma like that, you stay numb." She relates the
trauma to the surgery itself, pain and humiliation caused by a nurse, and
continued poor health after the surgery. "I worked through it, but these
experiences change your life."