Abu Dhabi, UAE: Heart disease is the number one killer of women, but few are tested for it because of the misconception that it is a man’s problem, doctors say.
This and other false notions mean women are often unaware that they are at risk of cardiovascular disease until they have a heart attack.
"A lot of women feel breast cancer is the biggest killer among women but cardiovascular disease is probably 10 times more likely to kill you," said Dr Jairam Aithal, a specialist in cardiovascular disease at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital.
"Also a misconception is that coronary heart disease is more of a man’s disease but that is certainly not the case. In a lot of developed countries, the rate is probably higher in women than in men."
Dr Ahmed Gapr, a cardiologist, said more education would help women to be proactive.
"There is a lack of education and information, in the UAE particularly," said Dr Gapr, an Egyptian who has been working at Al Noor Hospital’s Airport Road branch in Abu Dhabi for more than two years.
"Women, they do not have enough information about the disease – what to do, what not to do. This is all despite the sedentary lifestyle and the type of food we are eating."
Men tend to be more proactive about heart health, he said, "maybe because the men are more aware, they are the ones checking if they have a problem with the heart. Mostly, the women, they do not know they have heart disease."
Dr Aithal said women needed help in ensuring their conditions did not advance to heart attack.
"Nothing is more important than prevention. Prevention is part of the cure," he said. "Everybody does everything for people after they have had a heart attack but we seem to do very little for people before.
"That period is just as important to delay the onset of symptoms."
Worldwide, cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer among women, as it is in the UAE.
"The incidences of all coronary heart diseases locally are probably even much higher than it is worldwide," Dr Aithal said.
"Look at the incidence of diabetes – it is startling high in the population. You look at the incidence of obesity and it is very high."
Dr Aithal said it was also important to dispel the widely held belief that women did not develop heart disease until they were older.
"It is very much a disease that affects the young," he said. "One reason for that is stress. A lot of women are now working and take care of the children at home as well.
"With work comes social, financial and personal stresses."
After the age of 35, women should be thinking about an annual test to check the health of their hearts, Dr Aithal said.
Risk factors such as smoking, inactivity, being overweight, diabetes and high blood pressure can then be modified.
"If you catch this disease at an early age, then at least you can modify all these factors to slow down the progress."
The World Heart Federation says heart disease and stroke cause 8.6 million deaths among women every year.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US say that while some women have no symptoms, others describe a sharp, burning chest pain and can have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back.
More red flags are dizziness, light-headedness or fainting and extreme fatigue.
The latest annual statistics by Health Authority Abu Dhabi say cardiovascular diseases accounted for more than a quarter of all deaths in 2012.
Dr Gapr said the first time many women learn about cardiovascular disease is when it has reached a critical point.
"Mostly, the first they know they have heart disease is when they have their first heart attack," he said.
"Some of them – they think: ‘we are women, we are less at risk than the men to get heart disease.’ So they might think they are more protected.
"But it is not like that. No age is immune. No sex is immune."
© The NationalMay 2014