Women need a personal approach to protect against heart disease.
Heart attack. It’s something that many women don’t think much about until they experience it personally. But heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the U.S.
“Women are often so focused on caring for others that we don’t take time to care for ourselves,” explains Payal Kohli, MD, cardiologist with SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute – Lafayette, the area’s only center that specializes in women’s heart care. “Although heart disease kills more women than breast cancer, lung disease and diabetes combined, we don’t think of it as a ‘women’s disease.’ It’s time we change that mind-set.”
Dr. Payal Kohli, MD
Cardiologist, SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute-Lafayette
Heart Attack symptoms vary between genders
Heart attack symptoms can look very different in women than in men. Although women can have classic symptoms of heart attack like crushing chest pain or radiating pain down the arm, they often experience less obvious symptoms.
“There is no ‘typical’ presentation of heart attack in women. That’s why it can be so difficult to identify,” says Dr. Kohli. “Every woman experiences it differently.”
Unfortunately, women’s symptoms of heart attack can be vague. So how do you know if you may be having a heart attack?
“Typically, women who have experienced a heart attack describe a very uneasy feeling that they’ve never felt before. It’s a different feeling that sets the event apart and prompts them to seek help,” says Dr. Kohli. “It’s important to keep all potential symptoms in mind and not ignore something when it just doesn’t feel right.”
Take a Holistic Approach to Prevention
Dr. Kohli explains that heart disease can strike anyone—even young, healthy women. That’s why she advocates taking a proactive role in your heart health.
“Many people don’t realize they can see a cardiologist for preventive heart care,” says Dr. Kohli, who has advanced training in preventive cardiology. “The goal is to identify and manage risks to prevent heart disease before it becomes a problem.”
Dr. Kohli takes a comprehensive approach to helping women reduce their risk for heart disease, focusing on diet, exercise, alcohol consumption and more. She also looks for factors unique to women that are associated with an increased risk for heart disease. For example, women with pregnancy difficulties such as preeclampsia or low- birth-weight babies may be at increased risk for the disease. Those whose mammograms have shown calcifications or who take hormone replacement therapy may also be at higher risk.
“For most women, drastic lifestyle changes aren’t necessary. But by making small adjustments early on, we can help prevent a problem in the future,” says Dr. Kohli. “The earlier you address a problem, the easier it is to turn around.”
Trusting My Instincts Saved My Life
A woman who eats right, exercises intensely, maintains a healthy weight and is a nonsmoker doesn’t seem like a typical heart attack patient. But Patty Guenther, 58, is a clear reminder that anyone can be at risk.
Patty woke up one morning a little nauseous and with arm pain. An avid exerciser, her first thought was that she overdid it during her workout the day before. But the symptoms didn’t go away and instead progressed to pain in her jaw. Although she wasn’t experiencing chest pain, her unusual symptoms nagged at her. Not feeling quite right, Patty’s husband drove her to an SCL Health emergency room where she was shocked to learn she was having a heart attack.
“I have a strong family history of heart disease but thought I didn’t need to worry about it because I live such a healthy lifestyle,” Patty recalled. “I learned that if I didn’t have such good habits, a heart attack would have likely happened sooner, and I may not have made the recovery I did.”
Patty was immediately transferred to SCL Health Good Samaritan Medical Center’s cardiac catheterization lab.
There, an interventional cardiologist who specializes in minimally invasive surgical procedures went to work opening two blocked coronary arteries.
Because Patty didn’t take a ”wait-and-see” approach with her symptoms, she received quick treatment. Serious damage to heart muscle can happen when treatment is delayed, complicating recovery and increasing the chance for future heart problems. Instead, Patty bounced back from her heart attack with no limitations. She attended cardiac rehabilitation at Good Samaritan and continues to exercise and eat right. But she urges women to be vigilant about heart attack symptoms.
“My care was exceptional,” said Patty. “But if I didn’t pay attention to that feeling that something wasn’t quite right, I may never have sought help. When it comes to health issues, listen to your gut.”