Women's Cardiovascular Health


Watch Dr. Mehmet Oz and other renowned cardiologists as they talk about this major killer, known in the medical world as a "myocardial infarction." Step inside the human body in a way that lets you completely understand what a heart attack is all bout, how and why they happen, what to do in the event of a heart attack, and how you can take steps to avoiding one.

Dr. Oz: The main cause of death for women is heart disease.

Dr. Fail: More women die every year of heart disease than breast cancer, than cervical cancer, than uterine cancer put together.

VO: The ravages of high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and high blood pressure have a brutal effect on the more delicate blood vessels in women.

Dr. Oz: One of the first things I noticed as a heart surgeon was how different the arteries of women and men were. And we lump them together and we think of heart disease as the same ailment in both genders, but it`s not, it`s very different.

Dr. Oz: The arteries of men are linguini, they`re big structures, so we can work with them more readily. That`s why we`re so much more successful when we stent them and do bypass surgery on them. Women have the arteries of cappellini, they`re really thin, small little vessels. They`re very dainty and also they don`t have a lot of plaque in them, they`re much harder to work with.
And those are some of the challenges that we face when we take care of women with heart disease, which is why their mortality rates are so much higher.

Dr. Watson: And new data suggests that that might be because the atherosclerotic process is a little bit different in women. So whereas men tend to have that classic plaque rupture and a complete cessation of blood flow right away, women tend to have a little more plaque erosion, so you get a little blood clot forming one day and then it may go away. And then the next day a little bit more and a little bit more. So it`s just a little bit more subtle.

VO: That means the symptoms for women are also more subtle, and can go unchecked.

Dr. Watson: The classic teaching of every medical student in the world is that when you have a heart attack you have crushing sub-sternal chest pain. You come in feeling like an elephant`s sitting on your chest. And that`s absolutely true for men, most men feel that kind of chest pain when they have a heart attack. For women it`s not quite that straightforward. Women often feel chest pain but it`s often just a discomfort or just a, a vague feeling. Women often have abdominal pain or jaw pain, or shortness of breath or something different.

Dr. Watson: And that`s unfortunately, unfortunate for women because when you come into the emergency room saying, I have an elephant sitting on my chest, every doctor knows what to do. That`s a heart attack and I`m going to go straight down that path. But when you come into the emergency room saying, I just have not felt right for three days, it doesn`t raise the same red flags and, and sometimes women get missed.

VO: Women`s cardiovascular systems are not only different than men`s but they undergo a dramatic change during pregnancy. Blood volume increases greatly, and the heart enlarges to compensate. Also the expanding uterus can obstruct the blood flow of large vessels in the abdomen.

VO: Whether pregnant or not, regular check-up`s to screen cholesterol and blood pressure, and a lifestyle that includes eating healthy and exercising will greatly lower a woman`s chances of heart attack or stroke.

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