Women are equally if not more prone to heart attacks even though traditionally they were thought to be relatively immune to cardiac ailments, doctors say.
Cardiovascular diseases claim 17.3 million lives a year according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
"Over the last few years, more women patients are coming with heart problems," Praveer Agarwal, interventional cardiologist of Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, told IANS ahead of World Heart Day that will be celebrated Thursday.
According to WHO statistics, the number of coronary diseases in women have increased by 300 percent in the last five years.
"Previously women's health was not given equal importance. Genetically males and females are equal, so heart problems affect both," Agarwal said.
Doctors say that women have always been prone to heart problems but the changing lifestyle has exposed them to it further.
Working women have to suffer from dual stress. Women who smoke and drink, those who have high blood pressure and diabetes or take oral contraceptives, and those in post menopausal stage, are most prone to heart problems, doctors say.
Nearly nine million women across the world die of heart problems, and this is a third of all causes of death in women, according to Anil Dhall a senior interventional cardiologist in Delhi's neighbouring Gurgaon. Nearly three million die of stroke.
"Contrary to popular belief, nearly 45 percent women die in a year after the first heart attack compared to 25 percent men. They therefore have double the risk of dying after a heart stroke," Dhall noted.
"The problem was always there, but earlier, women did not go for check-ups and their condition was not diagnosed," Agarwal said.
Popular belief has it that women in their reproductive years are at a lower risk of heart problems due to oestrogen, a hormone that protects them from certain heart conditions.
Doctors agree but add that changing lifestyles have reduced the effect of this factor.
"If a woman smokes, the effect of oestrogen is negated," said Praveen Chandra, chairman of interventional cardiology at Medanta hospital on the outskirts of Delhi.
"Oral contraceptives also have negative effect," he added.
Lack of awareness and self-care makes women even more vulnerable.
"Heart problems in women usually are under reported. Traditionally people think women don't need regular health check-ups... no one thinks of their mother going for an angioplasty or bypass surgery," Dhall pointed out.
"Another reason why heart diseases in women go unreported is that they may not display the symptoms. There are certain conditions which go undiagnosed," he added.
The precautions are simple - exercise, stress management and regular care.
"Exercise, walk, diet, stress management, avoiding smoking and drinking and regular health and heart check-ups are important," Chandra added.
World Heart Day was kick-started in 2000 to inform people around the world about heart ailments and strokes, according to the World Heart Federation.
In partnership with the WHO, the World Heart Federation organizes awareness events in more than 100 countries.
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