Resource Blog/Media/LWI MCI Johnson Women and Heart Disease HERO2


Five Things Every Woman Should Know About Heart Disease – Even if You're Young

Baptist Health Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute

Heart disease is the number-one killer of women. Yet only half of all women in the U.S. identify it as their top health threat. It’s a statistic that sets off alarm bells for cardiologists.


“We still have a lot to do when it comes to educating women about their health and particularly about their risks for cardiovascular disease,” says Heather Johnson, M.D., a preventive cardiologist with the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health. “Even women who do recognize the seriousness of heart disease sometimes think they are personally not at risk or too young for heart disease. Nothing is further from the truth.”


Heather Johnson, M.D., a preventive cardiologist with the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health


February is American Heart Month, and Resource sat down with Dr. Johnson and two other female cardiologists with Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute ― Paula Montana De La Cadena, M.D., and Andrea Vitello, M.D. ― to discuss heart health. Their insights prompted our list of the five most important takeaways that every woman should know about her heart health and her risk for cardiovascular disease.


ONE – Heart disease kills women

It bears repeating: Cardiovascular disease kills more women annually than all cancers combined, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). More than 60 million women in the U.S. have some form of heart disease and it spans all ages, from young, pregnant women to seniors.


Women who do survive a heart attack are also more likely than men to die or develop a serious complication within five years of the event. Additionally, studies show that cardiovascular-related deaths are on the rise in women ages 35 to 64.


TWO – It’s largely preventable

Coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and other cardiovascular problems are largely preventable by living a healthy lifestyle and understanding your risks.


“It’s very important that women have their regular primary care check-ups to address any issues that may already exist,” says Dr. Montana.


“Optimize your overall health at a young age,” adds Dr. Vitello. “There are very common conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and underlying cardiometabolic problems that can be managed and, often, reversed. This must be the cornerstone of our approach with patients.”


The AHA’s eight steps to preventing heart disease and stroke are:


·      Understanding your risk

·      Eating a healthy diet

·      Being physically active

·      Watching your weight

·      Living tobacco-free

·      Managing health conditions

·      Taking prescribed medications

·      Working with your healthcare team to build a prevention plan


THREE – Pregnancy is a vulnerable time for the heart

Up to 15 percent of pregnant women have some pregnancy-related complication that contributes to adverse outcomes for mother or baby that may include premature birth, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure (including preeclampsia), placental abruption and stillbirth, according to the AHA. During pregnancy, the doctors explain, the body is put under additional stress from hormonal changes, weight gain, and blood volume increase.


While the links between pregnancy complications and heart disease are still being researched, conditions such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and smoking increase a woman’s risk for a heart attack, stroke or other type of cardiovascular disease later in life. That’s why it’s vital for any woman who experiences a health-related problem during pregnancy to inform physicians of her history, even as she ages.


FOUR – Your mammogram may hold a key to your heart health

When radiologists review mammography images, they are looking for abnormal breast tissue that could be an indication of breast cancer. But they may also see breast artery calcifications (BAC), which can be a sign of cardiovascular disease.


“Breast calcification data goes back to the 1980s,” Dr. Johnson says, “but there really wasn’t a great appreciation of the importance of this until the early 2000s.” Most women who are told following a mammogram that they have calcifications in their breast arteries are surprised and unsure of what the diagnosis means, the doctors say. But as more radiologists report BAC findings, more women are finding their way to special programs like those at Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute and Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute so that a thorough evaluation of their cardiovascular risk can be performed by a cardiologist.


The doctors say that the shift in the way breast imaging is approached, knowing that it can provide potential insights into broader aspects of a patient’s well-being, is a step in the right direction toward a more holistic and comprehensive approach to women’s health.


FIVE – Preventive cardiology clinics personalize care

Women who have been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition or have significant risk factors are more commonly referred to a preventive cardiologist.


“We start with the basics from head to toe. It’s a very individualized approach. We really hope to identify a problem before it becomes more serious,” Dr. Vitello says. “We do a lot of education, and we look very closely at female-specific risk factors.”


Of special note

Underserved and minority populations are at even higher risk of heart disease. The AHA says that Hispanic women tend to develop heart disease 10 years sooner than non-Hispanics and that Black women are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease compared to non-Blacks. It’s thought that the reasons are multifactorial, perhaps a combination of genetics, socioeconomic and lifestyle issues, problems accessing care and a general lack of knowledge.


If you have concerns, ask your primary care physician or cardiologist for more information pertaining to your heritage and circumstances.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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