More women die from cardiovascular disease than from all cancers combined. Yet many people still view heart disease as affecting primarily men—and older men, at that. The reality is that women of all ages may experience cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, awareness of the particular symptoms that indicate heart attack for women is growing. (Hint: A lot of these symptoms are different for men and women.) It wasn’t long ago that a woman experiencing chest pain might be sent home with a Motrin.
“Today, if a woman comes into the ER with chest pains, she gets a full work-up, including an EKG and enzyme test,” said Dr. Hirokao Noda-Heiny, a cardiologist at Hancock Regional Hospital.
There’s no need to wait for trouble to strike, however. If you have reason to suspect you have a heart condition that needs attention, you can easily get answers with a $49 heart scan.
“It’s really important to go to your doctor to learn what your risk factors might be,” said Dr. Meg Fitzsimmons, a family and primary care doctor at Hancock Family Medicine. “That’s where the annual physical exam comes in. Have your blood pressure checked. Have your cholesterol checked. Have a real discussion with your doctor about your weight—if your BMI (Body Mass Index) is over 30, that’s obese and that increases your risk of heart disease.”
Know the risk factors
If heart disease runs in your family or if you’ve previously had an abnormal scan, you might want to consider getting a close look at the condition of your heart.
Other important risk factors for heart disease include
- High blood cholesterol
- Overweight or obesity
- Physical inactivity
You’ll notice that every one of those factors is modifiable, meaning that—unlike hereditary risk factors—they can be changed when you take action to care for your heart.
Knowing as early as possible that you’re at risk for developing heart disease increases your options for treatment and improves your chances of avoiding a major cardiac event. In many cases, early treatment and lifestyle changes can keep your heart healthy.
Understand the scan
If you choose to register for a heart scan, expect to spend less than an hour at a Hancock Health facility. That’s how long it takes for a cardiac CT (computerized tomography) scan that will alert your doctor to coronary artery calcium—an early sign of the plaque buildup that can block arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke.
Scans also can reveal structural issues within your heart and problems with its function. In other words, your doctor can see whether your heart is looking good and working as it should so that you can find peace of mind—‚or, if it turns out you need it, develop a treatment plan to address the early signs of cardiac disease.
There’s no special prep required for a heart scan short of changing into a gown, and don’t worry about claustrophobia—your head remains outside the machine during the 15-minute scan.
The time to consider your heart is now
You have a lot to do, we understand. Who can bother getting sidetracked by a little nausea and sweating or even fatigue? That business plan isn’t going to write itself.
But this attitude has led to disaster for many women: “Ignoring symptoms is why so many women are dying of heart attacks,” Dr. Noda-Heiny said. “Women might be quick to blame other factors—like overwhelming fatigue or flulike symptoms—but by the time they end up in the emergency room, it can be very serious.”
And these symptoms don’t wait until you turn 50 to strike. They can come up at any time.
Your heart health is important throughout your life. Whatever age you are now, it’s the right age to take a good look at your heart health.
Dr. Meg Fitzsimmons is located at Hancock Family Medicine, 8535 N. Clearview Drive, Suite 200, McCordsville. She can be reached at 317-477-6400.