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Brace Fellow Jiramongkolchai Speaks on CHD in Women

Coronary Heart Disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States. Startlingly, many women are not aware of this fact. On Monday evening, Pawina Jiramongkolchai ’06 kicked off this year’s Brace Center for Gender Studies Student Fellow Presentations with her report on Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and its impact on women. While CHD is the leading cause of death in women, most people think of it as a male disease. When people think of CHD they immediately picture, in Jiramongkolchai’s words, “a middle-age man running to the hospital.” However, CHD is twice as likely to prove fatal to a woman as to a man, largely due to the fact that female CHD sufferers are on average 10-15 years older than male sufferers. Jiramongkolchai said that physicians “under-treat their women patients,” and this is particularly true for CHD. Women’s CHD symptoms tend to be less obvious than those manifested in males, and thus doctors often dismiss the onset of CHD as a much less serious malady like indigestion. High cholesterol is one of the leading causes of CHD. Excess cholesterol builds up plaque in arteries, which then become clogged. This hinders blood from reaching the heart, resulting in a blockage and then a heart attack. Obesity is another leading cause of CHD. Women whose body-mass indexes are above normal are three times more likely to be diagnosed with CHD than the normal women. Other risk factors include smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Several of these conditions increase a women’s risk of getting CHD by two or three times. In addition, there are risk factors exclusive to women. Female hormones like estrogen rid the arteries of cholesterol. However, women become more susceptible to CHD after the onset of menopause because their estrogen levels decrease significantly, increasing their cholesterol levels Oral contraceptive usage, the most popular method of birth control for women, also increases the risk of CHD. Also, women on the pill who then discontinue their use do not decrease their risk for CHD. Jiramongkolchai also stressed that women need to be more aware of their risk for CHD. Many women believe that they are immune to CHD and that breast cancer remains the foremost disease to fear. This sense of invincibility to CHD leads women to forego preventative actions against it, such as exercise and better nutrition. Jiramongkolchai said, “CHD does not have to be the number one killer of women. Education could save lives.” Although there are risk factors specific to women, much of the CHD research done in the past targets white, middle-aged males. Although there has been some research conducted on women, it was not performed on the most affected age group. Jiramongkolchai said of CHD research, “It only serves to promote the idea that CHD is a male disease.”