Female veterans face different issues in a home front battle against heart disease that's significantly different from male veterans — and from women who have never served in the military, a study published in an American Heart Association journal reveals.
The increasing number of women cared for by veterans affairs facilities — it has doubled in the past decade — is giving scientists a special opportunity to examine the heart health of female veterans.
This study finds that female veterans getting medical attention for chest pain were younger and more likely to be obese, depressed and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than male veterans.
The authors of the study say the findings may prompt a closer look at the connection between chest pain and stress-induced heart disease and coronary microvascular disease. In the latter disease, spasms in the walls of very small arterial blood vessels can lead to severe and long-lasting angina.
The median age for female veterans having the heart test was 57, six years younger than the median age of the men.
The national study, which looked at 86,000 veterans, including 3,181 women, also found:
• Women in the general population are older and have more risk factors for heart disease such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol than men. But female veterans were younger and had fewer heart disease risks than male veterans.
• Female veterans had higher rates of depression (55.3 percent compared to 31.4 percent) and post-traumatic stress (20 percent compared to 16 percent) than men, highlighting mental health as a potential risk factor for heart disease.
The study appeared in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an AHA journal.
Veterans' organizations such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans have urged the VA to pay more attention to the differences between male and female veterans, and to ensure that women have a safe place to go for their health care.