Women fear breast cancer but more often die of heart disease, say experts

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According to surveys, women are more afraid of breast cancer, but they die more often of heart diseases, warn experts who attended a conference on women's health in Warsaw.

Women are even more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than men. 'Women, not men, have a higher mortality rate due to cardiovascular diseases,’ Professor Bartosz Hudzik, a cardiologist from the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, noted during a meeting with journalists before the conference.

The two-day international conference Prevention & Intervention was the first such event in Poland and Central and Eastern Europe - entirely devoted to women's health and women's careers in medicine. For the first time in Poland, the meeting was attended by the most influential women in cardiology in the world - from Poland, Europe and the United States. The conference was held under the patronage of the largest American organization supporting women in medicine - Women as One.

Experts admit that cardiovascular diseases, especially heart attacks, are still more often associated with men. Meanwhile, women are at greater risk of death due to this than men. 'The main difference between the two sexes is that women die of heart disease 10-15 years later,’ says Dr. Marta Kałużna-Oleksy, an interventional cardiologist at the Medical University of Poznań and president of the Polish Association of People with Heart Failure.

Data presented by specialists during the press conference show that circulatory system diseases are the first cause of mortality in women and occur seven times more often than breast cancer. However, few women realize this. 'In one survey, two-thirds of women indicated breast cancer as their main health threat, and only a quarter mentioned cardiovascular diseases,’ says Professor Hudzik.

According to experts, women are less susceptible to cardiovascular diseases than men, but only until menopause. And that is provided they do not smoke cigarettes and do not suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes. They must also not suffer from metabolic disorders, for example elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, too high blood glucose levels or hypertension.

'All these factors increase the risk of heart attack and stroke in women,’ says Professor Hudzik, adding that pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, hypertension and metabolic disorders, including elevated lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides), have a poor prognosis. Premature birth and other disorders during pregnancy are also unfavourable.

Professor Hudzik also says that women with pregnancy complications should be examined for diseases and disorders that increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases within three months after giving birth. The risk of these diseases may be two to four times higher in women with pregnancy complications.

The risk of cardiovascular diseases in women also increases due to premature menopause, for example in the first years after the age of 40. This is because of the decreasing level of oestrogen that protects against heart attacks and strokes.

'Preventive and surgical treatment is effective in both men and women, it just needs to be applied in time,’ Hudzik says. 

This is a problem because women often underestimate the risk of cardiac diseases and consult a doctor too late.

'Intervention in heart attack involving interventional cardiology procedure improves survival regardless of gender,' says Dr. Michał Hawranek, head of the Haemodynamics and Interventional Radiology Laboratory of the Silesian Centre for Heart Diseases. He adds that it is very important to perform such a procedure as early as possible, and in women it is performed later more often than in men. 'Women think about going to the doctor or calling for help at a later point,’ he says.

According to data from Wales, applying the same heart attack treatment in women as in men would save the lives of over 8,000 women a year. However, women are less likely than men to receive appropriate recommended treatments, which results in a worse prognosis and increases mortality.

The results of cardiac treatment also largely depend on how the patient follows medical recommendations, regardless of gender, argues Dr. Hawranek. In addition to appropriate treatment, it is important to take recommended medications and maintain a healthy lifestyle. 'Proper control of blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels may give even better results,’ he says. (PAP)

Zbigniew Wojtasiński

zbw/ bar/ kap/

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