– Female hearts differ from male ones in size and pumping capacity
– The cardiologist explains what causes heart failure in women and how to protect yourself from it
If the pumping power of the heart decreases, this has consequences for the whole body. Organs such as the brain, liver, kidneys and muscles no longer receive enough oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. Cardiologists distinguish between different forms of heart failure (medical heart failure). In the case of heart failure with reduced pumping function (systolic heart failure), the heart no longer pumps powerfully enough. In the case of heart failure with preserved pumping function, the heart still pumps vigorously, but it no longer fills with enough blood because the tissue is no longer sufficiently elastic. Cardiologists then speak of diastolic heart failure.
Heart failure in women: the elasticity of the heart is often disturbed
“Women are more likely to suffer from diastolic heart failure, which is a disorder of the elasticity and therefore of the filling of the heart,” says cardiologist Prof. Dr. Christiane Tiefenbacher, board member of the German Heart Foundation. This is due to the differences between male and female hearts in both size and pumping ability. This is reflected in the form of heart failure. Because women generally have slightly stiffer and smaller hearts than men. It is less able to stretch and fill with blood. This is compensated for by an increased pump capacity. As women age, this anatomical fact becomes more important: the size of the heart decreases with age. During menopause, reduced estrogen production leads not only to increased blood pressure, but also to increased connective tissue formation in the heart. The heart continues to lose elasticity.
Other risk factors that promote heart failure in women
And there are other influencing factors that promote heart failure in women: “High blood pressure, obesity and diabetes mellitus in particular have a negative effect on the elasticity of heart tissue and are therefore important risk factors for heart failure for women. . If they occur together, their effects are enhanced, “explains the chief physician of cardiology at Marien-Hospital Wesel. The factors mentioned are also critical with regard to the risk of heart attack. “Heart failure is often the result of a heart attack. When the heart has a heart attack, the heart tissue dies and scarring occurs, which limits the heart’s performance, “says the Heart Foundation expert.
Recognize the symptoms of a weak heart
Heart failure usually develops gradually and therefore often goes undetected for a long time. It is not uncommon for symptoms to be mistakenly dismissed as signs of aging. “Women should be vigilant. Shortness of breath, reduced performance and exhaustion are the first symptoms of heart failure. Water retention, so-called edema, also often causes swelling of the feet, “says Prof. Tiefenbacher. Daily activities become more strenuous, such as climbing stairs, shopping or cycling.
Important to know: Sudden onset of symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, physical weakness, sleep disturbances, or occasional back and upper abdominal pain may indicate a heart attack in women. Typical chest pain is often absent or less pronounced. Information on heart attack symptoms: www.herzstiftung.de/herzinfarkt-frauen-symptome
What makes heart failure so dangerous
Heart failure is a serious and insidious disease that usually presents with unspectacular symptoms and gradually with shortness of breath, reduced performance and fluid retention, for example in the lower legs (swollen legs, ankle edema). This carries the risk of older people attributing their symptoms to their age and simply accepting them instead of going to the doctor. Chronic heart failure should always be treated. In this country, heart failure is one of the most common causes of death and is a more common cause of death than cancer. Up to four million people in Germany have a weak heart. The risk increases with age. More than 40,000 people die from this disease every year. “Anyone with shortness of breath should ask a doctor to clarify whether heart disease, such as heart failure, is the cause,” advises Prof. Tiefenbacher. “The earlier a diseased heart is recognized and treated, the easier it is to counteract deterioration.”
The guide “Coronary heart disease and heart insufficiency – what is different in women?” (20 pages) can be obtained free of charge from the Heart Foundation by phone (0 69) 955128-400 and at www.herzstiftung.de/bestellung.