What Kills Women?

Many individuals still believe that the most deadly disease among women is breast cancer, not cardiovascular disease. This article discusses how this myth developed. In addition it discusses which women are at greater risk for breast cancer, and for cardiovascular disease and why? It also discusses In the case of cardiovascular disease why women have poorer health outcomes than men. The primary, secondary, and tertiary preventions implemented for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease and their effectiveness are also discussed.

Women are at a greater risk of dying from heart disease as compared to other disease, including breast cancer. Still, many view heart disease as a middle age man’s disease. This myth developed because heart disease has been seen as a man’s disease and breast cancer as a women’s. There was insufficient research in the area of heart disease to find out that women express heart disease differently than men (Condon, 2004). Initially, research was conducted on men due to their greater accessibility. For example, heart disease has different symptoms in men and women. Men experience an aching pain, whereas women may experience a dull pain, dizziness, sickness, shortness of breath, or sweatiness, which resembles anxiety or stress (Kornstein & Clayton, 2002). Women’s symptoms were not reported, and often heart disease went undiagnosed in women. The public has been made aware of the threat of breast cancer to a greater extent than with heart disease. Awareness of heart disease in women is slowly increasing.

Any person that partakes in behaviors and circumstances that cause injury to the inner lining of the bloods vessels that supply the heart and brain with oxygen and nutrition is at an increased risk for heart disease (Condone, 2004). Women who smoke, eat a poor diet, are overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle, or are of a low socioeconomic level are more at risk for heart disease and breast cancer. Other risk factors include, increasing age, menopause, male sex, family history and heredity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or cholesterol (Condone, 2004; Kornstein & Clayton, 2002). African American women have a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, and more severe blood pressure than Europeans. Incidence of heart disease is higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, and Native Hawaiians (Condon, 2004).

Women who are increasing in age have an increased risk for heart disease and breast cancer. Women who have reached menopause are at a greater risk because estrogen can protect against heart disease as it maintains cholesterol. With menopause is a lowering of estrogen and women are left more vulnerable. Estrogen replacement can reduce most of the risk factors (Condon, 2004). Breast cancer increases with age, as women age 30, 1 out of 5900 will have breast cancer whereas women age 70, 1 in 330 will have it (Condon, 2004). This may be due to an increase in age, being associated with an increased exposure to ovarian hormones, external estrogens, and environmental toxins. External estrogen increases the risk of heart disease and decreases health (Condon, 2004).

In people under 50, obesity poses a greater risk for coronary artery disease as it increases strain on the heart and increases the risk of diabetes (Condone, 2004). Diabetes is more serious for women than in men. Women diabetics are three to seven times more likely to develop heart disease than a non-diabetic, whereas men are only two to three times more likely. This may be due to the strong negative effect diabetes has on lipid levels and blood pressure in women (Condone, 2004).

Smokers are more at risk for heart disease. Nicotine constricts blood vessels and increases abnormal plaque formation on the walls of the vessels (Condon, 2004).

Smoking also increases the release of catecholamines into the blood and lowers estrogen levels. This causes levels of undesirable low density lipoprotein to increase and the levels of heart protective high density lipoprotein to decrease. In addition, nicotine masks chest pain and increases platelet aggregation. It also lowers oxygen levels (Condone, 2004). There is a clear risk associated with cigarette smoking, high estrogen contraceptives, and risk of heart disease in women over age 35 (Kornstein & Clayton, 2002).

A lack of social support, depression, anxiety, hostility, social isolation, and low or no religious involvement are associated with an increased risk of heart disease as these factors are associated with an increase in stress (Condon, 2004). This is especially true for those of a lower socioeconomic status. Stress increases the release of catecholamines and free radical damage to the coronary arteries (Condon, 2004).

African Americans, the elderly, and those with less education and from a lower socioeconomic group are at an increased risk of developing heart disease. The higher rate of heart disease in ethnicities is partially due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes within these cultures (Condon, 2004). Minorities in many circumstances have less contact with healthcare. Their healthcare is also of lesser quality. Illnesses are less likely to be detected early and early detection increases survival. Both breast cancer and heart disease need to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible (Condon, 2004).

African Americans have double the rate of cardiovascular disease. African Americans have an additional 22-40 percent chance of dying after a myocardial infraction (Condon, 2004). They are also more than twice as likely to suffer death and disability from stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death ages 30-39 years (Kornstein & Clayton, 2002).

African American women experience breast cancer less than white women, but die from it more frequently then white women. African Americans are less likely to get tested early for heart disease and breast cancer. They are unlikely to devote attention to a problem that “might” exist (Condone, 2004). Many of these women carry heavy social burdens that prevent them from getting preventative healthcare and early treatment for health problems. In regards to breast cancer, by the time a lump is found, the cancer has already been growing. This is why breast cancer needs to be detected as soon as possible, before it spreads to other areas of the body (Condon, 2004). Breast cancer death rates are decreasing, but not for African Americans, which suggests these women do not have the access to the healthcare that white women do and are not receiving the much needed clinical breast examinations and mammography screenings (Condone, 2004).