Dr. Andrew Rudin, MD, has already written at length about the issues that plague women regarding keeping their hearts healthy and properly detecting and diagnosing a heart attack. Recently, though, studies have begun to demonstrate that there are even more risks for women, and for women of color at that.
It’s been long established that it’s bad for heart health to carry unnecessary weight in the form of fat on the body for countless reasons. For one, heavier bodies make the heart’s job harder, since it takes lots more effort to push blood to all the parts of the body that are working double-time to ensure the joints and muscles function properly. Moreover, it’s also been documented that most common knowledge and conventional wisdom regarding heart attacks is specific to men — that is, heart attack symptoms in women look very different, and as such, women don’t realize that they’re having a heart attack until much too late.
A recent study has demonstrated that fat collection in one specific place could significantly increase the likelihood of heart attack in older women — and that place is around the heart.
Women who are going through menopause or who recently emerged out the other side of the process are more likely to have accumulated fat around the heart. A study out of the University of Pittsburgh has shown a strong link between women undergoing menopause and fatty heart.
Unfortunately, shy of a heart attack, there are few ways to diagnose fatty heart. CT scans are the most reliable way to tell how much fat has accumulated around the old ticker, but the scans are often cost-prohibitive to lower-income women. Thus, the researchers from the Pittsburgh study went in search of less-invasive ways to determine a woman’s risk of fatty heart. Naturally, women who carried more fat across their bodies also had more fat around their hearts, and risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking also increased a woman’s risk of exhibiting fatty heart.
Perhaps most interestingly, the researchers isolated race as an important factor in predicting fatty heart. White women with high BMIs had more fat around their hearts than black women with the same BMI, but black women with larger waistlines had more heart fat that white women with similarly large waistlines. These big-bellied black women also had heart fat physically closer to their hearts than did white women.
Presently, there’s no treatment meant to specifically target heart fat, and many researchers are investigating this study’s findings to ensure that race is indeed the true differentiator, not something like income or diet. As I’ve discussed before, income and its corollary, ZIP code, are often better predictors of health than genetic codes. This study is an important first step to learning more about women and appropriate heart care, but there’s lots more to be done.