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Heart Failure in Women


Margo A. Halm, RN, MA, CS, United Hospital, 333 North Smith Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102


Heart failure affects more than 5 million Americans. Each year, about 400,000 individuals develop heart failure, making it the nation's most rapidly growing cardiac problem. Almost one third of these individuals have New York Heart Association Functional Class III or IV heart failure and are faced with progressive clinical deterioration and frequent hospital admissions. These figures will continue to escalate as the population ages. The success of interventional procedures and pharmacologic therapies in the management of coronary artery disease has enabled this population to survive acute events, at the same time creating a population with chronic disease. Common etiologies of heart failure in women include coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, and valvular disease. However, women are at especially high risk for developing heart failure due to diastolic dysfunction associated with hypertension and diabetes. Heart failure in women is best managed across the care continuum, incorporating pharmacologic agents, interventional procedures when appropriate, dietary restrictions, self-monitoring, and psychosocial support. Much of the recent literature has focused on women and heart disease. This emphasis is partly due to public misconception about women's health problems and the growing body of research distinguishing gender differences. Significant advances in therapy have been made to improve the quality and span of life for people with heart disease. Despite therapeutic advances, however, women have high mortality rates from heart disease, including heart failure due to ischemic causes. In fact, women with heart failure present differently than men and have different etiologies and treatment options. As we learn more about women and heart disease, the distinguishing differences unfold and become helpful in establishing a plan of care.