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Heart Disease and Women: Why Early Screenings Are Even More Important

December 11, 2018

While many people are aware of the risk of heart disease in men, they often don’t realize that heart disease poses just as big of a threat to women. In fact, heart disease is the most common cause of death in both women and men in the United States.

One of the ways we can all help change this statistic is to become more educated on the value of heart screenings. Often, women are unaware that heart screenings play a vital role in their heart disease prevention. Women tend to have different, more subtle signs of heart disease than men. This means that, if a woman is forgoing heart screenings, her heart disease often won’t be detected until later stages, when it’s much harder to treat.

But I have a primary care provider—am I still at risk?

Most women have a relationship with their primary care provider or OB-GYN that allows them to ask questions about their ongoing health and lifestyle. But if a woman shows no early warning signs of heart disease, heart screenings are not a routine part of these primary care exams.

“With the heart screenings Kettering Health Network offers, we can provide earlier detection for women who are not having symptoms,” says Barb Emrick, MS, PHCNS-BC, CCP, manager of the Center for Heart and Vascular Health at Kettering Health Network. “We make testing available and accessible for people who want to be proactive about their cardiovascular risk.”

What are my heart screening options?

The heart screenings are offered on a self-pay basis to individuals of varying risk levels. For women who are low risk, a basic heart screening evaluates factors like cholesterol, glucose levels, blood pressure, and BMI. If a woman is considered at higher risk of heart disease, a more in-depth heart screening will also assess additional risks like inflammatory factors, vitamin D levels, and a detailed lipid particle profile. The advanced assessment is paired with a calcium scoring CT scan to identify calcified plaque in the coronary arteries. This screening is also available as a stand-alone test to detect risk of heart attack. Additionally, vascular ultrasound screenings check the carotid arteries in the neck to help identify stroke risk.

 

How do I know my risk level?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of all Americans have at least one of three key risk factors for heart disease:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. High cholesterol
  3. Smoking

If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your health care provider about which heart screenings may be most appropriate. Some additional risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Eating a diet high in processed foods  
  • Eating a high-sodium diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • A history of high blood pressure while pregnant
  • Certain autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus

Never ignore discomfort

“The symptoms of heart disease in women tend to be atypical. A woman might experience a dull pain, shortness of breath, or unusual fatigue. Because symptoms are often less noticeable in women, many women don’t report to the emergency room right away,” says Barb.

But delay in treatment leads to worse outcomes. “Women should never ignore any kind of discomfort from the waist up,” says Barb. “And by providing accessible, routine heart screenings, we can provide early intervention.”

Register for your heart screening today at ketteringhealth.org/heart or by calling (937) 395-8492.