Heart Disease in Women
You Have a Heart of Gold
Heart scans provide images of your arteries to check your heart health.
These screenings show the health of your arteries and major blood vessels.
We care for women through every stage of life—from pregnancy, to cancer, to heart disease.
At Community Heart and Vascular Care, we fight the #1 killer of Hoosier women, heart disease. Let’s talk about it today so you are not another statistic.
Facts About Heart Disease
- Kills 1 out of every 4 American women
- Kills 23 Indiana women every day
- Heart disease and stroke together account for 30% of all female deaths in our state, ~7000 women annually
- Kills more women yearly than the top 14 causes of cancer combined
Those are sobering statistics about CAD (coronary artery disease), also known as hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. No matter its alias, the progressive build-up of plaque in the inner artery lining reduces blood flow, leading to angina (chest pain from the heart muscle being starved for blood and oxygen), heart attacks (no blood flow causing dead heart muscle), congestive heart failure and sudden cardiac death.
Am I at Risk?
Some risk factors we can control, some we cannot. Your age, your genes, your family history and being postmenopausal are beyond your control. These issues are important in assessing risk and guiding treatment but no cures exist. What can we control? Lifestyle choices to change smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes are within our grasp to treat and beat heart disease. Where do we start? First, know your numbers. That means your weight, BMI, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar and fasting lipid profile (cholesterol split into the good, bad and ugly). You can schedule a $49 heart scan with no doctor’s order required, measuring any calcium in your heart’s arteries. Have a heart-to-heart with your doctor: Do you need stress testing or other more in-depth evaluation?
How Are a Woman’s Symptoms Different?
Many women have classic symptoms to alert them to CAD: chest pain or pressure behind the breastbone associated with exertion that radiates to the left arm/neck/jaw. Many women have other less obvious symptoms, like shortness of breath, sweating, fatigue, nausea, dizziness or fainting that occur with exertion or rest. Women are also more likely to have plaque build-up in the tiny capillary arteries that are too small to be stented (microvascular angina) and stress-induced congestive heart failure (also known as Broken Heart Syndrome or Takotsubo’s cardiomyopathy.)
Save Your Life
Don’t ignore your symptoms. Don’t be ignored by a professional who does not evaluate your symptoms. Women often delay evaluation because “heart disease only happens to men.” Although stress testing is usually the first step in a diagnostic work-up, the gold standard for the diagnosis of CAD remains a cardiac catheterization. This angiogram counts artery blockages (how many and how tight) and guides treatment. Stents have revolutionized the treatment of heart disease but they really just buy time to do the critical metabolic work: reducing plaque and preventing future symptoms with statins, blood thinners and aggressive reduction of risk factors.
We want to help you keep your heart healthy and change the stars of Hoosier women. Together, we can do just that. Bless your heart!
—Dr. Sheila Gamache
Women's Heart Care Champion and Cardiologist, Community Heart and Vascular Care
Talk to your doctor about your risk for heart disease or heart attack. Looking for a heart specialist? Find a doctor on eCommunity.com or call 800-777-7775.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
To prevent heart disease, a woman needs to be aware of the risk factors she has to develop heart disease. Typical risk factors include the following:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history
- Smoking (smoking more than doubles your risk of having a heart attack)
Prevent Heart Disease
Women should see their doctors and know their numbers. What is your blood pressure? What is your most recent cholesterol? Half of Americans have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or smoke.
To help reduce risk of heart disease, a woman should address the risk factors she can control, see her physician, and take medications that are prescribed.
In addition, there are several lifestyle changes a woman can make to reduce her risk of heart disease. These include the following:
- Exercise daily for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Avoid tobacco products.
- Follow a healthy diet that is low in saturated/trans fats, cholesterol and salt.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
The classic symptoms of a heart attack described in a textbook or seen in a movie include clutching one’s chest and experiencing the sensation of an elephant sitting on your chest. This chest pressure is often brought on by either physical or emotional stress, may radiate into the left arm, and is relieved with rest or sublingual nitroglycerin.
While some women may experience chest pain, others have more atypical symptoms that do not involve chest pain and thus might get ignored. These symptoms are diverse and may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Back or jaw pain
- Excessive sweating
The best thing a woman can do is to be proactive about her health. If you are experiencing any new symptoms, regardless of how typical or atypical they may be, talk to your physician rather than ignoring them.
Women's Heart Care Program
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Indiana, and remains a major public health issue. Even more alarming, heart disease claims more women’s lives in the United States than all forms of cancer combined. Nearly one woman dies every minute in America as a result of heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases. Unfortunately, there are widespread misconceptions that heart disease is a man’s disease.
Community's Women’s Heart Care program provides education and outreach to improve the detection and treatment of cardiovascular diseases for women and their families in our community. The free program provides tools to take action for managing your cardiovascular health, including an informative newsletter with heart health tips and invitations to women only events.