While women tend to focus on the more popularized health conditions like cancer, chronic lung disease, pneumonia and diabetes, the No. 1 killer of women — more than all of these and traffic accidents combined — is heart disease. And since most women’s heart attacks go undetected, it tends to be a “silent” killer, taking the lives of more than 314,000 women each year. In fact, heart disease proves fatal for more women than men.
While Heart Month may be coming to an end, Dr. Monica Lo, an electrophysiologist at Arkansas Heart Hospital, knows it’s always important that we, as women, recognize the symptoms specific to us that will position us for more positive health outcomes in the future. She weighs in below.
What are the symptoms of heart disease in women?
ML: While some women don’t present with any symptoms, others may experience:
- angina, or dull, heavy or sharp chest pain or discomfort
- pain in the neck, jaw or throat
- pain in the upper abdomen or back
These symptoms are particularly concerning when resting or doing your typical daily activities. Some women may also experience nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
It’s important to remember that women are more likely to have a heart attack without chest pain. Almost 64% die suddenly of coronary heart disease and have no previous symptoms.
Are there any risk factors particular to women?
ML: Risk factors include:
- age (Women develop heart disease 10-15 years later than men, primarily because of natural female hormone protection)
- other comorbidities (Women with diabetes, high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol are two to three times more likely to have heart attacks.)
- other lifestyle choices such as
- smoking (which increases the risk 19 years earlier than for non-smokers)
- being overweight or obese
- eating an unhealthy diet
- being physically inactive
- drinking too much alcohol
Why are there so many unknowns regarding heart disease in women?
ML: While more women die from heart disease than men each year, women only make up 25% of participants in heart-related research studies. While this is improving, women remain under-represented in many studies that have set the standard for the detection and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Even though valuable information about heart disease has been gathered, the model of detecting cardiovascular disease has been based on and designed for men. Not all the data have applied to women.
What can women do to protect their heart health?
ML: The first step is to understand your heart health. To get your baseline, schedule a "keep the beat" screening, which will build your cardiovascular risk profile and connect you with one of our world-class providers for a one-on-one consultation. This valuable information will eliminate any uncertainty and help you move forward with lifestyle and risk-management changes to keep your heart healthy.
You can also:
- quit smoking
- make healthy food choices (including eating the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, using olive oil instead of butter and eating fish at least twice a week)
- limit your alcohol intake to one drink a day
- manage your stress levels
If you have questions, you can meet with one of Arkansas Heart Hospital's expert cardiologists or call to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Monica Lo is board-certified in cardiovascular disease and clinical cardiac electrophysiology and practices at the Arkansas Heart Hospital. She treats a variety of arrhythmias by performing ablations and implanting pacemakers and defibrillators. Other areas of interest include women’s health, pregnancy and heart disease and stroke prevention. Dr. Lo also serves as the medical director for Right Rhythm Monitoring, a remote cardiac monitoring service.