Women’s arterial diseases often go unnoticed: doctor

By Chou Yan-yu and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Sat, Jan 13, 2018 - Page 3

A 56-year-old woman surnamed Chen (陳) with a history of high blood pressure recently discovered that her arteries had hardened and that blood flow to areas of her brain was blocked, after seeking medical help for blurred vision, a Taipei-based doctor said on Thursday.

Endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels, serve the function of moderating blood pressure, said Kang Hung-ming (康宏銘), director of family medicine at the Taipei-based Reshining Clinic.

However, if they are in an environment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar for a long time, their function gradually becomes disrupted, Kang said.

This gives bad cholesterol an opportunity to accumulate inside the arteries, forming plaque and causing them to harden, Kang added.

As arteries harden quietly and over long periods, many people underestimate the risks of having high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar, Kang said.

Hardening of the arteries is the main cause of heart disease and strokes, he said, adding that apart from normal aging, family history, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking all exacerbate the problem.

Before women reach menopause, their blood vessels are protected by estrogen, Kang said, adding that during this time endothelial function is comparatively better and the hardening of arteries and formation of plaque is less likely to occur.

However, after menopause, the processes speed up, Kang said.

In men, hardening of the arteries is often accompanied by the formation of detectable local plaque and typical angina symptoms, Kang said.

In women, it comes with a shortage of blood flow due to a general narrowing of the arteries and is likely to make them feel tired, weak and short of breath, or lead to sleep problems at night, Kang said.

As they tend to experience no typical angina symptoms, conditions are often already severe by the time they are discovered, Kang said, adding that it is best to get examined between the ages of 40 and 50.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare provides free health examinations for adults over the age of 40 every three years, Kang added.

If people discover that they have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or high blood sugar after the health examination, they should proceed with medication, diets and periodic follow-ups as circumstances require, Kang said, adding that they could also pay out of pocket for a carotid pulse wave velocity ultrasound.