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Recognizing and understanding the signs of heart disease

Statistics show women are less likely to go to the hospital and tend to have more subtle symptoms of heart disease, compared to men.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The American Heart Association says 1 in every 3 women will die from heart disease. It kills one woman every 80 seconds and takes more lives than all forms of cancer combined. That's more than 17.9 million people a year across the globe.

It's also happening more in young women in their 20s, according to the Heart Association.

"We definitely have seen more younger women with heart disease, especially if they had a smoking history," Dr. Vrinda Sardana, a cardiologist with UofL Cardiology Group said. "If you look at stroke statistics, you see more women. In heart attacks, you see more men."

Smoking is one of 8 factors that put you at a greater risk for heart disease. 

  • Family history
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Cholesterol
  • High BMI
  • Unmanaged stress
  • Sleep disorders

New research from the American Heart Association indicates the youngest, most diverse women are the least aware that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is their greatest health threat.  

"I see a lot of high blood pressure, undiagnosed and not treated in African American patients. They present with really bad heart failure or kidney disease," Dr. Sardana said. 

The pandemic has only made things worse. Dr. Arpit Agrawal, a cardiologist with Norton Heart & Vascular Institute, said the hospital saw half as many heart attack patients last year as they'd normally see, but it wasn't because people weren't having issues.

"People just waited too long because they were afraid to come to the hospital or they just didn't come at all," Dr. Agrawal said. "Back in March and April, we were seeing a significant reduction in people coming to the hospital with heart attacks, about 50 percent lower than usual. So, we were all quite puzzled by that, but people just weren’t coming in to get medical care. After those first few months, numbers started coming back to normal."

Many who did come in were there for what they thought were COVID-19 symptoms when it was really heart-related.

"The worst example that comes to mind is a patient who came in with a heart attack. He started having chest pain, suspected he was having a heart attack and waited 5 days at home and then he presented. So, we saw complications of a heart attack we normally don't see in this day and age," Dr. Sardana said.

Statistics show women are less likely to go to the hospital and tend to have more subtle symptoms, compared to men.

When you think of a heart attack, you might think of extreme chest pain, which can be a key symptom. But many women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look for are dizziness, feeling lightheaded or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, there's no time to waste.

"We can drastically improve people's outcomes if they come in early before that heart muscle dies," Dr. Agrawal said.

Women and men are encouraged to wear red Friday, February 5, and give as part of the American Heart Association's signature movement, Go Red for Women.

Contact reporter Brooke Hasch atbhasch@whas11.com. Follow her onTwitter (@WHAS11Hasch) andFacebook.

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