Women and heart disease

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:50 pm
Heart disease is usually a result of coronary (CORE-uh-nair-ee) artery disease and/or high blood pressure. Coronary artery disease is the gradual clogging of the arteries that nourish the heart, due to fatty buildup; this reduces blood flow and oxygen to the heart. Despite a lingering perception that heart disease is a male problem, it's actually the leading cause of death in women as well. In fact, a woman is at a greater risk of dying from heart disease, than from breast cancer. While men tend to have heart attacks earlier than women, the risk for women increases rapidly with age, as estrogen levels drop. Up to menopause, estrogen is thought to have a protective effect on the heart. However, most studies on the heart haven't included women, so doctors aren't sure whether the disease develops the same way, has the same symptoms, or responds to treatment the same way as it does in men. Often, heart disease in women is harder to detect and treat. Until more is known, your best strategy is to take heart disease seriously. Don't underestimate the importance of a healthy diet, low cholesterol levels and regular exercise. If you have recurrent chest pain, insist that the doctor look for signs of heart disease. To find out more about women and heart disease, consult a health care professional.

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