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Heart Disease Health Center

Millions of Women Unaware They Have Arterial Disease

Peripheral Artery Disease in Women Underdiagnosed and Understudied
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PAD Is Often a Silent Disease continued...

Hirsch says the low rate of symptoms helps explain why so few people with PAD receive adequate treatments, which can include drug therapies, supervised exercise, and surgery to restore blood flow to narrowed or blocked arteries.

In addition to advanced age, risk factors for PAD include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and having a family history of the condition.

Cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says adequate treatment is important because women with PAD tend to experience very rapid functional declines.

She agrees that at-risk women should be screened for PAD and that more gender-specific research is needed to better understand the course of PAD and other diseases of the artery in women.

“If you are a woman who has any problem with your arteries, we don’t know enough to tell you what is going to happen,” she says. “We do know that outcomes among women with peripheral artery disease and coronary artery disease tend to be bad.”

Hirsch hopes that programs like the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign can raise awareness about PAD.

“Not too long ago, most women didn’t know that their primary risk was heart disease,” he says, adding that now it is common knowledge that more women die from heart disease than from all cancers combined.

“We would like to see a similar effort to make women aware of their risk for PAD,” he says.

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