WHEELING - The belief that women are less susceptible to heart disease than men is a common - and sometimes fatal - misconception that is leading to alarming statistics for the female half of the population, according to Dr. Robert Fanning of Wheeling.
Fanning, an interventional cardiologist and director of cardiac services at Wheeling Hospital, said women at age 25 should start looking for risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, that can lead to heart disease.
"The No. 1 problem is education," Fanning said. "If we were cognizant of heart health at an earlier age, we would treat the risk factors. Many women are more worried about breast cancer than heart disease, and they've kind of mislabeled their priorities."
If a woman does not start monitoring her heart health until age 65, Fanning proposed, she has let 40 years of risk factors deteriorate the state of her heart, exacerbating any health problems.
Men and women develop heart disease just as frequently, but women show the symptoms 10 years later, Fanning said. That dormancy in the symptoms contributes to higher fatality rates among women.
Fanning related that every year since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease. For any given heart attack, stent or bypass, the risk of dying is higher for a woman than a man, Fanning added, and 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease,
"It's the No. 1 killer for women," he declared.
Family medical history, diet, a sedentary lifestyle and habits such as smoking are other factors that contribute to heart disease.
And while men suffering a heart attack show well-known symptoms - shortness of breath, chest pain that may radiate in the arm - women show atypical symptoms. Fanning said younger woman suffering a heart attack may just feel exhausted, or flush, and the symptoms are often confused as being menopausal.
"Know your risk factors and do something about them," Fanning offered. "Heart health is a function of the habits that we keep."