On a recent The Dr. Oz Show segment, it was revealed that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) shows that in the past 20 years more women than men die from heart disease and that more than 1 in 4 women will die from America’s number one killer, nearly triple the number from breast and lung cancer combined. Yet, heart disease has been declining in men for more than 25 years. Why is this so? Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, Cardiologist & Director of Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has been researching that issue for the last 15 years. Together with Dr. Oz, they inform us of new risk factors specific to women that will hopefully help change those odds.
Dr. Merz said “When we look at the traditional risk factors of heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and lack of exercise the vast majority of American women were low risk for heart disease data. And yet we have this majority of women dying of heart disease. We assumed that if we knew how to treat and diagnose men, women would probably look the same.” Dr. Merz said even in medical school they were taught that heart disease occurred in men, and that women were protected until the menopause. That was not true then. And it’s not true today. Dr. Merz said that until the medical profession change their strategy, women will continue to die unnecessarily.
Up until now, heart disease risk factors were the same for men and women.
But woman are physiologically different from men and after 15 years of research, Dr. Merz has rewritten the rules for those risk factors for women called the Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) Coronary Vascular Dysfunction.
The obstacle now is that doctors still may not always be aware of female pattern heart disease, and may not focus on the new risk factors.
Women should be vigilent in their efforts to be aware of these factors that may effect them and pass that information on to their physicians if their physicians are not forth coming Dr. Oz presented the following Old and New Risk Factors:
The Old rule – Men and Women meet HDL levels above 40.
The New rule- Women need HDL levels above 50
Old rule-your menstrual cycle had no impact on your risk of heart disease
New rule- irregular periods are a risk for heart disease.
Dr. Merz explains that irregular periods are an indicator of two conditions, polycystic ovary syndrome and inadequate ovulatory function. So not enough ovulation therefore lower estrogen levels.
Women have a clue that men don’t have that our bodies are working properly. It’s called the sequence of a menstrual cycle. Dr. Merz explains an irregular cycle is one where one month you may have a regular period. The next month the period may skip or just have a little break through bleeding, and then the next month may be regular again. This irregularity occurs regularly, during your younger menstrual years not your menopause years. This irregularity of periods is the risk factor for heart disease.
Problems during pregnancies.
Old rule- pregnancy had no impact on heart disease.
New rule-complications during pregnancy can dramatically impact the risk of heart disease – Doctors once thought that if you developed complications during pregnancy that they were corrected and disappeared after the pregnancy was over. They now know that these complications have long-term ramifications with regards to heart disease.
Dr. Merz explains that during pregnancy there are three new risk factors:
- preeclampsia or hypertension (high blood pressure) during pregnancy
- gestational diabetes or a tendency to spill sugar while you’re pregnant
- becoming obese during pregancy
Dr. Merz explained that the Barbara Streisand Foundation supports the effort of identifying a good questionnaire where women can accurately report to physicians about preeclampsia. That effort could prove more effective than the cholesterol and high blood pressure risks.
Dr. Merz explained that doctors need to start asking about these complications and women need to start telling doctors while in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s that they had these problems when they were pregnant. Women know about their pregnancies so that’s a good thing in bringing forth awareness during the screening process for heart disease risks.
So, if you have had any of these risk factors you need to take any other risk factors you have in your life such as smoking, family history, problems with blood pressure and blood sugar that much more seriously.
Dr. Oz advises when you’re about 45 years old, you need to partner with a good general practitioner and tell them about these factors, because they are not always going to ask you and together work out a good heart disease prevention plan that works for you.
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