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?
Physicians' Attitudes: Part of the Problem? continued...
She says he couldn't believe what he was seeing and perhaps had
preconceived notions about young women and heart disease. "I don't know how
much it was a feminist issue or his frustration at not being able to get me
well," she says.
Kastan remained ill following double bypass surgery.
"Friends started wondering if some of this was in my head," she says.
She contacted WomenHeart for support and was urged to go to a women's heart
clinic. She went to Hayes. "She listened. She may challenge me, but she
always supports me. She'd never question me as an intelligent human being or
question my feelings."
Obstacles to Recovery
Here's something else you may not know: women who have heart
attacks may not recover as quickly or as fully as men. In the survey, 52% of
the women were unhappy with their medical care, and faced major hurdles getting
the help and support they needed for recovery.
Following her bypass surgery, Kastan couldn't walk without
having chest pains. But she says her recovery began within a week after she
went to the women's heart clinic.
One study has shown that 35% of women compared to 18% of men
have a second heart attack within six years of the first. "We don't
completely understand that, but we have theories," Hayes tells WebMD.
"We know women are not treated as aggressively as men after a heart attack.
They're less likely to be on statins or ACE inhibitors or beta blockers, all of
which reduce the risk of a second heart attack. Women receive fewer
angioplasties and bypass operations and even less aspirin."
Is the disparity due to a true sex difference or because women
are undertreated? The only way to find out, says Hayes, is for doctors to
"start treating women the same as men."
The Take-Home Message
Kastan, who speaks around the country about women and heart
disease, has seen doctors' attitudes improve in the past couple of years.
"They're more aware of women and heart disease and aren't dismissing women
as readily," she says.
She urges women to pay attention to their bodies and become
more active consumers of health care. "I was uncomfortable going to the
Mayo Clinic [for a second opinion] because I didn't want to hurt my
cardiologist's feelings," she says. "That shouldn't have been my
concern. Be your own best advocate."
Hayes says momentum for change is rising due to recent health
campaigns and research results. "We've got a snowball going," she says.
"More people are aware. Whether they're taking action is another
She wants women to know they're more likely to die of heart
disease than anything else. It's important to know the risk factors and
symptoms, and take preventive steps.