Outlook On Women's Heart Health
Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death for people in the United States, and no one knows that better than the cardiologists at CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute, who deal with heart disease patients every day. We talked with Katherine Durham, MD; Oyidie Igbokidi, MD; Tena Murphy, MD; Nanzeen Tata, MD; and Deepali Tukaye, MD—all female cardiologists from CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute—to find out why cardiology is their passion, how people can make an impact on their own heart health and how heart disease differs for women.
What made you interested in cardiology?
Dr. Tata: Heart disease is unfortunately part of my family. Early on in my medical training, the field of cardiovascular medicine grabbed my attention. The huge impact it has on the general population, the rapid growth in medications and procedures, and being able to assist so many dealing with heart conditions confirmed my goal to train as a cardiologist.
What are the most important heart disease risk factors for people to recognize?
Dr. Tukaye: General health is very important. We should all know that basic risks include smoking, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and family history. But life stresses and lack of physical activity also have a strong effect. And if people have one set of vascular problems, they are likely to have another.
What preventive steps would you recommend for people who want to improve their heart health?
Dr. Igbokidi: The first thing I would recommend is to know your risk factors. Talk to your primary care physician about modifying your risk factors in a positive way. This might include lifestyle changes such as eating foods low in fat calories, exercising 4–5 days a week for 30–45 minutes, not smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke.
What should every woman know about cardiovascular disease?
Dr. Durham: We are just as much at risk as men. Cardiovascular disease is prevalent among women as well as men, and we need to take our symptoms and health just as seriously.
Women’s symptoms aren’t always the same as men’s symptoms. Women may have symptoms such as shortness of breath without chest pain or feeling more tired than usual. Some women experience atypical chest pain, such as heartburn or a burning sensation in their chest. These can be early signs of heart disease, and they shouldn’t be ignored.
How does heart disease risk change as people age?
Dr. Tata: As we age, our risk increases. We are more prone to health conditions, and heart disease is one of them. As we get older, sometimes something as simple as increasing fatigue and inability to do physical things are important signs of potential heart issues.
Dr. Durham: Menopause can also be a factor for women. Excess abdominal weight, compared to weight around the hips, is a risk factor for heart disease. After menopause, because of the way hormones change, some women can put on more abdominal weight, particularly if they live a sedentary lifestyle.
How often should people visit their primary care provider for a checkup? What signs should they look for to gauge their heart health?
Dr. Murphy: The answer is different depending on each individual. The minimum I would say is once a year. However, some people may need more regular follow-up. Exercise and physical activity tolerance can be a good indicator of heart health. Symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain suggest you may have an issue. For any symptoms you are concerned about, consider seeking immediate healthcare attention.