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Women, do you know if you're having a stroke?

16-Mar-2011 (Wed) TODAY

By Esther Ng

SINGAPORE - Heart disease, not breast cancer, is the leading cause of death among Singapore women. One in three here die from cardiovascular disease and stroke, yet less than 10 per cent of women are aware of this.

Women, more often than men, may have subtler, less recognisable symptoms, such as abdominal pain, jaw or back aches and nausea.

This, and the lack of awareness of and resources for heart disease in women, spurred the National University Heart Centre Singapore (NUHCS) to launch its Women's Heart Health Clinic (WHHC) - the first of its kind in Singapore and staffed entirely by women.

Dr Carolyn Lam, the clinic's programme director and initiator, pointed out that even when women exhibit the same symptoms as men, they respond differently.

"Chest pain - I must be too stressed. Neck pain - I need a massage. Breathlessness - I'm really out of shape. Men, however, will think it's a heart problem and see a doctor."

It has also been shown that women have worse outcomes than men after heart attacks and interventions.

"We also wait longer before see a doctor. By then, the disease would have advanced," said Dr Lam.

She added that the risk of heart failure in women "skyrockets" after menopause, surpassing the risk in men.

WHHC - to start operating on April 21 - is a one-stop centre in which women will be treated by female cardiologists and receive integrated care from dieticians, occupational therapists and psychologists.

There are currently two cardiologists, including Dr Lam, serving the clinic, which is also a research and education centre. Four more will come on board at a later date.

WWHC is looking to build a database for research into cardiovascular disease, particularly in Asian women, where data is sorely lacking.

Women who are interested can approach their general practitioners or call NUHCS to make an appointment.