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Spotlight On Women's Heart Health

American Heart Association

What does a heart attack look like? I suspect that if you had to put a face on a heart attack it would look like a stressed out, chain smoking, hard drinking Mad Men type. But while those people exist and they certainly are at risk for heart disease...more and more the face is becoming female. A great deal of attention is brought to women's risk of breast cancer but the fact is that heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the US. 

2014 is the 50th year that February has been designated Heart Health Month by the American Heart Association. This year, special attention is being paid to women's heart health

Dr. Vishal Gujral a board-certified cardiologist with Sacred Heart Cardiology and is on the staff at Santa Rosa Medical Center, seeing patients in Milton, Pace and Crestview. He says Coronary Artery Disease is the most common form of heart disease. It starts when plaque, made up of cholesterol, fats and other materials starts to build up along the walls of arteries vessels,cutting of the supply of blood to sections of the heart. This causes chest pains known as angina and, if left untreated, heart attack.

Credit Santa Rosa Medical Center
Dr. Vishal Gujral

As we said over the last five or six decades women have caught up to men in the rates of heart disease. The increase of women who smoke is a major reason for that. But heart disease in women, at first glance, doesn't look the same as it does in men. Women's the symptoms of a heart attack are more subtle than the crushing chest pain usually experienced by men.  The Mayo Clinic says women having a heart attack may have some or all of the following:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Right arm pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue

Dr. Gujral says any woman who experiences and recognizes these symptoms should call 911.

So what can women do to prevent that heart attack? Stop smoking or do not start! Eat a balanced diet. Exercise. Maintain a healthy weight. Control your diabetes. Control your blood pressure. And see your primary care doctor at least once a year. Screening can be as simple as a blood pressure test, checking for diabetes and cholesterol levels and an electrocardiogram in your doctor's office.  High cholesterol levels can be controlled with drugs called Statins. Dr. Gujral says these drugs have made a big difference in cholesterol control.

If there are symptoms present a stress test and other tests can be given to determine the amount of blockage and asses what further treatments may be needed. But Dr. Gujral reminds women, and men as well, that prevention is better than treatment.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.