More women die of heart disease than any other cause, including all cancers, but most women continue to think they're safe from heart disease till they cross 50 years.
The female hormone oestrogen protects women against heart disease, but unhealthy lifestyles have outpaced the hormonal benefits. A new study has found that three in five women in India develop the risk of heart disease as early as 35 years.
"Heart diseases in women are caused mainly due to low HDL (good cholesterol) and overweight. Add smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure to these and you have far more women at risk than diagnosed," says Dr Praveen Chandra, chairman of interventional cardiology at Medanta, the Medicity.
"Sedentary lifestyles, work stress and unhealthy diets also contribute to accelerate heart disease risk, which is equal for homemakers and working women," he added.
The probability of young women developing a heart condition may be low as compared to men, but the numbers gave steadily gobs up over the past three years.
Anuradha Bhattacharya, 33, who suffers from irregular heartbeat that's lifestyle-related.
"She is obese, stressed and doesn't walk well, all of which add to heart-attack risk," he said.
Heart disease is more aggressive in women as compared to men because they have smaller blood vessels, which leads to blockages at lower cholesterol levels.
Women are often more likely to not have angina and chest pain, which are the classic symptoms of a heart attack.
"They are likely to complain of restlessness, indigestion or acidity. High blood pressure is also a trigger. Most women do not get their blood pressure checked regularly and the body gets used to the high pressure over time, which keeps gnawing at their hearts," said a senior doctor from the department of cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
Smoking is another risk factor that is detrimental for heart health, especially in women.
"Pre-menopausal women who are smokers have a risk of developing a heart disease 19 years earlier and if the woman is pre-menopausal and diabetic then it is worse for the heart," said the doctor at AIIMS.
Also read: Watch out, heart disease catches you young!
Nicotine harms the inner most layer of the blood vessel in the heart the tendency of the body is to repair what is damaged so instinctively the damage is filled by depositing layers of cholesterol in it that converts to plaque and breaks down to clog arteries gradually.
Rising hormonal imbalances are also affecting heart health.
"Women with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), for instance, have a risk of heart attack 4 to 7 times higher than women of the same age without PCOS. Women with PCOS may have a higher rate of miscarriage because of elevated levels of luteinizing hormones, insulin or glucose," says Dr Anubha Singh, gynecologist and IVF specialist, Shantah Fertility Centre.
Some even talk of oral contraceptives affecting the heart in the long run.
"Contraceptive hormones, most commonly prescribed as oral contraceptives, are a widely utilized method to prevent ovulation, implantation, and, therefore, pregnancy. The Women's Health Initiative demonstrated cardiovascular risk linked to menopausal hormone therapy among women without pre-existing cardiovascular disease," said Dr Vanita Arora, associate director- cardiac electrophysiology, Max Hospital.
Whatever be the cause, doctors advise to not ignore the symptoms. "The body always gives signals that here's something going wrong, never ignore them. Popping medicines to treat symptoms indiscriminately just delays diagnosis," said the AIIMS doctor.