There are two newly identified types of heart disease specific to women that clearly cause problems we never knew existed before and need more research.
• Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD): Coronary MVD is a type of disease that affects thetiny blood vessels of the heart, not the major coronary blood vessels. With this disease, also known as cardiac syndrome X or non-obstructive coronary heart disease, the little arteries in the walls of the heart are damaged.
Research shows that the most likely cause of coronary MVD is the drop in estrogen that occurs at menopause. As estrogen levels drop, the protection to the heart that it provides disappears. Unless menopausal women take supplemental estrogen, their risk of heart disease catches up to the level of men’s and tops it within 10 years after menopause.
It is important to note that the standard tests used to diagnose heart disease in men and women today do not detect coronary MVD. Thus, results may show women who have coronary MVD are at low risk for heart disease when that is incorrect.
• Broken Heart Syndrome: This newly accepted diagnosis is caused by excessive stress and the release of too much of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to severe heart muscle failure. Other names for this disease are stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy. This syndrome often is diagnosed as a heart attack because it has similar symptoms and blood test results, but it lacks evidence of blocked heart arteries, and most women experience a full recovery after an attack.
Women get heart disease about 10 years later than men do. This is an interesting fact because some men take 10 years longer than women to settle down and have families, while women have hormones to protect their hearts until menopause. Then it takes about 10 years after menopause for the lack of estrogen to catch up and cause serious heart disease.
The good news is that many of the heart disease risk factors can be controlled and reversed by eating right, exercising, sleeping, managing stress, and taking the proper hormones as you enter menopause.
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