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Women’s Heart Health

Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death in women of all ages, with about one-half million women dying each year in the U.S.

One in every three American women dies of heart disease. The disease in women may not be easily recognized because some women have different symptoms for heart attack than men, says Dr. Tiffany Leung, assistant professor of internal medicine at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield. She explains some symptoms.

“Women’s symptoms compared to men tend not to be the classic symptoms we think of for heart disease.  So, for example, in men we think classically of chest pressure in the middle of the chest with symptoms radiating up to the jaw or the arm, but in women, those symptoms can present differently.” 

Dr. Leung says women often have more vague symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath.  And some tests for heart disease are not as conclusive in women as in men. Also, women’s breast tissue can obscure the images that are taken.  She explains the risk factors for heart disease.

“Smoking is definitely a risk factor for heart disease.  Being overweight, having what we call the metabolic syndrome, or it can also be the combination of high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well.  Those are all risk factors.  Family history of early heart disease in the family can also be a risk factor for heart disease in women.”

Dr.  Leung says there are a number of newer treatments for heart disease, which can help improve outcomes.  She also says women can lessen their risk of heart disease by eating the right foods and getting a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise on most days.  If a woman has symptoms for heart attack, she should see her primary care physician or go to a hospital emergency room as quickly as possible.

Ruth Slottag