I was recently shocked to find out that my co-worker had heart surgery at the age of 39. This really got me thinking about my heart own health. I always assumed that it only affected older women, but that isn't the case. I talked to Odayme Quesada, MD
, from The Christ Hospital Women's Heart Center to learn more about women's heart health.
What are the main things women need to know about heart health?Dr. Quesada:
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in women. Women’s heart disease is different than men’s. There are heart diseases that are common in women and largely understudied. For instance, women are more likely to experience recurrent chest pain and even show evidence of heart damage like ischemia with no obstructive coronary artery (INOCA)
, but after testing and consultation, are falsely reassured because there is no significant blockage in the heart arteries. In half of these cases there’s evidence of coronary microvascular disease that we can diagnose through a specialized test called coronary reactivity testing or nuclear PET stress test. It is important that these women seek a second opinion.
What are some healthy habits all women should do to keep their hearts healthy?
Dr. Quesada: I recommend the American Heart Association's Life's Simple 7:
- Manage blood pressure
- Control cholesterol
- Reduce blood sugar
- Get active
- Eat better
- Lose weight
- Stop smoking.
What are the signs of a heart issue? When does it become urgent? My co-worker experienced some classic symptoms like tightness in her chest and tingling in her arms during exercise.Dr. Quesada:
Women with heart disease do not always present with classic chest pain. Some women with heart disease have epigastric pain, shortness of breath, shoulder pain, neck pain, extreme fatigue, nausea or vomiting. If symptoms are severe or recurrent it is important to seek medical care right away without delay.
What are some causes of heart disease? How much does family history come in to play?Dr. Quesada:
There are risk factors for heart disease that are common in both men and women including smoking, hypertension, diabetes, family history of early cardiac disease. However, there are women specific risk factors that we need to make sure we think about such as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, prematuremenopause, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and autoimmune diseases which tend to be more common in women.
If a woman does have a heart issue, what kind of tests are administered? I’ve heard of a stress test – what’s involved there?Dr. Quesada:
Stress tests are an important tool to determine if symptoms are related to blockage of the heart arteries. We have different types of stress test that we utilize depending on the situation. These include treadmill stress tests where a patient runs on a treadmill to bike stress echocardiogram to nuclear tests where the patient is laying on a table and a medication is given. If we have evidence of heart damage either through an electrocardiogram or blood test called troponin we may proceed directly to an invasive angiogram to assess for blockage of the heart arteries. However it’s important to mention that coronary microvascular disease that occurs in INOCA patients is missed by most stress testing.
My co-worker was 39 when she had heart surgery. Can heart issues/disease affect younger women?Dr. Quesada:
Yes it can. In fact a study of the ARIC community’s population demonstrated an increase in the number of heart disease hospitalizations in young women ages 35 to 54.
What advice do you have for younger women who experience symptoms? My co-worker’s advice was to listen to your body.Dr. Quesada:
Completely agree that it’s important to listen to your body. Also if you feel that there is something wrong and you may be falsely reassured that you seek a second opinion with a specialist in women’s heart disease. So the bottom line is: listen to your body and follow AHA's Life's Simple 7! Learning that someone I know had an issue at the age of 39 was a wake-up call for me. I'm going to watch my numbers and be on the lookout for signs/symptoms; what about you? Learn more about how The Christ Hospital Women's Heart Center can help.