Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, with more women dying of cardiovascular disease than all forms of cancer combined. February, American Heart Month, is the perfect time for women, and the people who love them, to understand the risks and symptoms and focus on prevention, says Alvaro Gomez, M.D. , cardiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute .
Lack of awareness is putting women’s lives at risk, and lowering survival rates.
“It’s still regarded as a disease for men,” Dr. Gomez says. “Awareness that this is the No. 1 killer is the most important thing for women to know.”
Without knowledge, women don’t know to act. “Seek medical attention” is always the rule for anyone who may be experiencing a heart event, but women are less likely to get help than men, he says, because they are not aware that they could have a problem.
However, over the past 30 years, progress has been made. As recently as the early 1980s, “No one was keeping statistics on this,” he says. Over the years, factors such as smoking, higher obesity rates and stress are believed to have increased incidents of heart disease in both women and men.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have made decreasing heart disease in women a priority through heart health campaigns and other efforts. While the numbers of deaths are decreasing, Dr. Gomez says, more women’s lives could be saved with greater understanding.
Women should see their doctors regularly, and educate themselves about their risk factors, including family history. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, abstaining from smoking and keeping stress to a minimum can decrease your risk of heart disease or a cardiac event.
In addition, Dr. Gomez says, know your numbers:
- Cholesterol levels
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
- Coronary artery calcium score
You are a candidate for cardiac calcium scoring if you are 40-65 years old, and have key risk factors such as:
- Family history of cardiovascular disease,
- High cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure
Dr. Gomez says that as women juggle careers and family lives, they still tend to care for others – children, spouses and parents – before attending to their own health. “This needs to change,” he says.
In addition to educating the women in our lives about the threat of heart disease, Dr. Gomez says, loved ones and friends should remind them: “Where would we be without you?”
Women and Heart Disease
Heart disease can occur in women of any age, but risks increase with age. Estrogen, Dr. Gomez says, has preventive properties, and when levels fall sharply after menopause incidents increase. During their 60s and 70s, men and women are in a statistical tie, with just as many women as men diagnosed with heart disease.
Women experience the same symptoms as men, including chest pain, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, but also are more likely to experience more subtle symptoms including:
• Back, jaw or shoulder pain
• Shortness of breath
• Nausea or gastro-intestinal discomfort
• Unexplained sweating
WomenHeart Support Network
If you are a woman with cardiovascular disease or know someone who is, extraordinary support is close by. Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute is part of the WomenHeart Support Network, the nation’s only peer-led support network for women living with heart disease. WomenHeart patients are trained at the annual WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium at Mayo Clinic, and work with the Institute team to educate South Florida women about prevention, early and accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. For more information about WomenHeart, visit here .
$49 Special for a Cardiac Calcium Test
Calcium build-up and blockages in the arteries can be more deadly in women, Dr. Gomez says, because women have smaller arteries than men. A small blockage for a man could be life threatening for a woman.
Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute is offering a $49 special for a cardiac calcium test ― a 30-minute, noninvasive CT scan that measures calcium buildup in the artery walls. The test is available at Baptist Health diagnostic imaging locations in Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties. Appointments must be scheduled by February 15. Patients must be 40 to 65 years old. Those with chest pain, known heart disease, previous angioplasty/stent or heart surgery are not good candidates and do not qualify for this test. A doctor’s prescription and appointment are required. For more information or to request an appointment in Miami-Dade, Broward or Monroe, call 786-573-6000, email Screenings@BaptistHealth.net  or visit BaptistHealth.net/HeartScreening. In Palm Beach, call 561-374-5700 or visit BethesdaWeb.com/HeartScreening .