Skip to main content

San Clemente Journal

Not Only a Man's Disease

Feb 05, 2006 12:29PM ● By Don Kindred
by Howared Frumin, M.D.

Howard Frumin, M.D., cardiologist on staff at Saddleback Memorial.It may be surprising to many that the number one cause of death in women is not cancer - it’s heart disease. In fact, heart disease kills one out of every three American women. Yet it is not diagnosed and treated with the same frequency as it is in men, continues to be seen as a man’s disease and is considered to be the leading cause of death among American women, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). 
Heart disease has become an equal opportunity killer. Only about one-third of women know that heart disease is their biggest health threat, and most fail to make the connection between its risk factors - such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol - and their personal risk of developing heart disease.
“The myth is that heart disease predominately affects men and not women. But, the truth is women have caught up with men and heart disease is now the number one killer of both genders,” said Howard Frumin, M.D., cardiologist on staff at the Saddleback Memorial - San Clemente Campus. “Women are very concerned with cancer detection and prevention, but many neglect the heart. They need to show the same concern for heart disease as they do for breast cancer.”
According to the American Heart Association, many women believe that cancer is more of a threat to female health. However, almost twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease and stroke as from all forms of cancer combined, including breast cancer.
Another reason women are not as concerned about heart disease is that they have a biological ally – estrogen. The perception is that because women have estrogen, which protects against heart disease by improving the cholesterol profile, that they shouldn’t be concerned. But with more women living longer, they eventually develop clogged arteries and the consequences are worse for women. They may have a worse outcome for heart surgery, due to their smaller blood vessels, so prevention is imperative, explained Dr. Frumin. 
A majority of women also fail to make the connection between heart disease and their personal risk factors. Some of these factors affect women differently than men, complicating issues even more. Reducing the risk of heart disease can be accomplished by some simple lifestyle changes. These include:
• Smoking. For reasons not yet understood, females who light up on a regular basis are 50 percent more likely to develop heart disease than male smokers. They’re also four times more susceptible to heart problems than someone who’s never smoked. In fact, smoking is the most important preventable cause of cardiovascular disease for both men and women. Saddleback Memorial now offers free smoking cessation classes to the community. Call the health information for dates and times and be smoke free in no time. 

Almost twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease 
and stroke as from all forms of cancer combined, 
including breast cancer.
• Obesity. Today, more than half of adult American women are overweight and one-third are obese. By the time a woman is 20 percent over her ideal weight, she’s doubled her chances of incurring heart disease. 
• High blood pressure. Hypertension goes hand in hand with heart disease. By the time a woman reaches menopause, the chance of her blood pressure exceeding the normal level of 120/80 is greater than a man’s. 
• High cholesterol. When total cholesterol levels exceed 200 mg/dl, plaque can build up in arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke. But the amount of specific cholesterol types plays a major role in overall cardiovascular health. In addition to high total cholesterol, LDL (bad) and triglyceride levels, having a low HDL (good) level is considered a risk factor for heart disease. 
• Physical inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle is linked with high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity - all risk factors for heart disease.
If you do feel any symptoms of heart problems – chest pain or tightness; shortness of breath; spreading pain to one or both arms, back, jaw or stomach; cold sweats and/or nausea – go to the emergency department or see your physician immediately. Women need to be aware that their symptoms may differ from those typically experienced by men.
In utilizing new screening technology to detect heart ailments, SMMC is helping improve outcomes of both men and women who have heart disease. A simple and effective way to detect and diagnose cardiac abnormalities is to have a stress test performed by a cardiologist. Stress tests aren’t perfect but they will uncover the vast majority of problems. Screenings are an effective way to detect problems early on so doctors can begin to treat them, Dr. Frumin revealed.
The Statistics
Women often do not take their risk of heart disease seriously - or personally. They fail to make the connection between the risk factors and their own chance of developing heart disease.
According to the National Institutes of Health, The Heart Truth is:
• Heart disease is the #1 killer of American women.
• One in every three women dies of heart disease. One in 30 dies of breast cancer.
• Women’s heart disease risk starts to rise in middle age.
• About 3 million American women have had a heart attack.
• Two-thirds of American women who have had a heart attack don’t make a full recovery.
• Nearly two-thirds of American women who die suddenly of a heart attack had no prior symptoms.
• Americans can lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 82 percent just by leading a healthy lifestyle.
• Only 57 percent of women are aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women.
• Only 20 percent of women identified heart disease as the greatest health problem facing women today.
Committed to your Health
Saddleback Memorial Medical Center is committed to helping you become “heart healthy.” Their new “Embrace Your Heart” campaign is raising awareness that women need to protect their hearts in order to prevent and/or reduce their risk of developing heart disease. Controlling the risk factors and education about heart disease is key to prevention. 
Throughout the year Saddleback Memorial offers various screenings including blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and body composition analysis. b 
For more information on heart disease, health screenings, or for a physician referral, please call the Saddleback Memorial Health Information Center, (949) 452-7255.