Heart disease is not just a man’s problem. Women also succumb to this silent killer, a condition further exacerbated by a sedentary culture and processed food. Traditionally, heart disease has never been thought to be a woman’s disease. Thus, when a woman complains of symptoms such as breathlessness, it is very often mistaken to be some other problem.

While heart disease has almost always been considered a man’s problem, statistics from the last two decades indicate otherwise. There has been a steady rise in the incidence of heart problems in women, especially those in the reproductive age. As per a recent study, women who start menstruating at 11 years or before, or those who entered menopause before the age of 47 were at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

A low level of estrogen due to changing lifestyles and other co-morbid conditions is among the key reasons for younger women developing cardiovascular diseases in India.

Other risk factors that can exacerbate the condition include a higher prevalence of diabetes, obesity and related ailments, and physical inactivity, and these have only worsened the problem.

Speaking about this, Dr K K Aggarwal, president Heart Care Foundation of India (HCFI) and immediate past national president Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, “The warning signs of heart problems in women are different from those seen in men. For example, women do not have the characteristic chest pain but may have a jaw pain. This is one of the reasons why women do not get diagnosed in time, thus exacerbating the condition further.”

What is worrying is that women exhibit atypical symptoms that delay diagnosis, he said. Among the symptoms in women is atypical angina, in which they could experience discomfort in the shoulders, back and neck.