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Heart Health: What’s Unique to Women

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of American women, killing one out of three women in the United States. Since 1984, women have surpassed men in cardiovascular disease-related mortality. Traditional risk factors - such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking and obesity - affect men and women, but other factors can play a larger role for women. Pregnancy-related pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, miscarriages (especially multiple), depression, stress and a history of trauma or abuse can all put women at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

Examples of cardiovascular disease include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease and congestive heart failure. Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a rare form of heart disease that affects women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. It can be hard to detect, which is why it’s important for women to understand their family history and other risk factors and be open with their physician about any symptoms they may experience.

Women often present heart disease symptoms later than men, and their symptoms are often different than what is commonly associated with heart disease or heart attack. Some women still experience the classic symptom of chest pain, but other symptoms that can be indicators of heart disease include fatigue, nausea, extreme sweats, shortness of breath, indigestion, and neck, jaw and/or back pain. Because women often present heart disease symptoms later than men, they often seek treatment later than men. Therefore, it is important for individuals who are experiencing a sudden onset of symptoms they have never felt before, such as acid reflux or other feelings they can’t explain, to begin thinking about what could possibly be going on, and take action instead of waiting.

Making a few lifestyle changes, like maintaining a proper diet and exercise, can go a long way in minimizing your risk for heart disease. Scheduling annual visits with your primary care physician to monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure and overall health can help you catch heart disease early. Cone Health has an exceptional network of cardiologists and other specialists that offer comprehensive, individualized heart care from a multidisciplinary team. The Advanced Heart Failure Clinic at Moses Cone is dedicated to improving the quality of life and care that heart failure patients receive in the hospital and in the clinic.

Prompt medical attention and treatment is of the utmost importance for those experiencing a heart attack. If you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack and/or collapses, call 911 immediately. With a specific system in place among the local first responders and an exceptional emergency response team at Cone Health’s Heart and Vascular Center, survival rates of heart attack patients in the community have been greatly improved.

Spokesperson Background:
Dr. Katarina Nelson is a cardiologist at Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare. Dr. Nelson attended medical school at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. She completed her medical residency in internal medicine at Wayne State University in Michigan and a cardiology fellowship at the University of Miami. She completed an additional fellowship in advanced cardiovascular imaging at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard University in Boston, MA.