Common causes of heart failure in women

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Heart failure, a condition where the heart can’t pump blood as well as it should, affects millions of people worldwide. However, the causes and presentation of heart failure can be different in women compared to men.

Understanding these differences is crucial for early diagnosis and effective management. This review explores the most common causes of heart failure in women, shedding light on why these differences occur and how they impact women’s health.

The heart is a muscle that pumps blood to the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to tissues. When it’s not working properly, as in heart failure, the body can’t get the blood flow it needs, which leads to symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the legs and ankles.

While some causes of heart failure are common to both men and women, such as coronary artery disease (the leading cause of heart attacks) and high blood pressure, other factors are more predominant or specific to women.

One significant cause of heart failure in women is the condition of their blood vessels. Women often develop heart failure due to problems not just in the larger coronary arteries but also in the smaller coronary arteries.

This condition, known as microvascular disease, affects the tiny arteries of the heart. Women are more likely than men to have heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), where the heart muscle contracts normally but is stiff or thick, and doesn’t relax properly after contracting.

This stiffness can be exacerbated by high blood pressure, which is more common in women, especially after menopause.

Diabetes is another major risk factor for heart failure, and its impact is more severe in women than in men. Diabetic women have a higher risk of developing heart failure than diabetic men.

This may be due to how diabetes affects the heart and blood vessels, particularly the smaller vessels, combined with hormonal changes in women that can alter heart and vessel function.

Valvular heart disease, which involves damage to or a defect in one of the four heart valves, also plays a role, particularly in older women. These valves help regulate the flow of blood through the heart, and if they don’t work properly, it can strain the heart.

Women may develop issues with the valves because of age, infections, or as a complication of other diseases like rheumatic fever, which remains a risk factor despite being less common now.

Another less talked about but significant factor is chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer, which are known to affect heart health.

These treatments can damage the heart muscle, leading to decreased heart function years after the completion of cancer treatment. Given the high incidence of breast cancer in women, this is a notable cause of heart failure in women.

Lastly, pregnancy-related issues can also lead to heart failure. Conditions like pregnancy-associated hypertension or peripartum cardiomyopathy (a form of heart failure that occurs during the last month of pregnancy or up to five months postpartum) are specific to women and can have lasting effects on heart health.

Preventing heart failure in women involves managing risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Regular check-ups, especially after pregnancy and cancer treatments, are crucial. Awareness of the symptoms, which can be subtle, is also vital for early detection and treatment.

In conclusion, while some causes of heart failure are common across both genders, women face unique challenges and risks that need specific attention.

Understanding these can help in tailoring prevention and treatment strategies that are more effective for women, ultimately improving outcomes and quality of life for those affected by this debilitating condition.

If you care about heart disease, please read studies about a big cause of heart failure, and common blood test could advance heart failure treatment.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about a new way to repair human heart, and results showing drinking coffee may help reduce heart failure risk.

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