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February 14, 2006 > Woman's Heart Day Focuses on Prevention

Woman's Heart Day Focuses on Prevention

Annual Event Promotes Screenings and Raises Heart Disease Awareness

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to Sister to Sister: Everyone Has A Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors National Woman's Heart Day. The annual event is scheduled for February 17 this year to promote heart disease screenings and raise awareness about "heart-healthy" prevention.

"Heart disease is a woman's disease," said Dr. Jeff Carlson, a Washington Hospital cardiologist. "In 1984, women surpassed men in the number of deaths attributed to heart disease."

One in three women in this country suffers from heart disease and nearly 500,000 will die from it this year, according to the American Heart Association. Compounding the problem is a recent study that indicates women may suffer from a form of heart disease different from the kind that strikes most men and the fact that women have different symptoms.

Research funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found that in many women, instead of developing obvious blockages in the arteries supplying blood to the heart, they accumulate plaque more evenly inside the major arteries and in smaller blood vessels. In other cases, their arteries fail to expand properly or go into spasm, often at times of physical or emotional stress.

That may explain why some women suddenly have heart attacks even though their arteries look clear, in some cases causing doctors to send them home without treatment.

Women also have different symptoms than men, who typically experience chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath. For women, symptoms include fatigue, upset stomach and pain in the jaw and shoulders.

"Heart disease is much more difficult to diagnose in women," Carlson said. "For women, fatigue is the most common presenting symptom of heart disease. But fatigue is a common symptom for many other, less serious problems."

In a separate study published earlier this month, researchers determined that women are less likely to be screened for heart disease than men and less likely to be prescribed preventive medicines than men.

"It's imperative for doctors to remember the statistics when it comes to treating women and heart disease," Carlson said. "When we are dealing with female patients, we have to pay particular attention to the different ways heart disease manifests itself in women."
Prevention is Key

While women and men may face different challenges when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, the importance of prevention is the same because heart disease is mostly preventable through lifestyle choices. The buildup of fatty deposits called plaque in the arterial walls is the underlying process that causes most heart disease and this can be reduced through preventive measures such as eating right, exercising, and not smoking.

Healthy eating habits and exercise can help reduce the three major risk factors for a heart attack - high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess body weight. The American Heart Association recommends adopting a diet that is low in salt, saturated fat and cholesterol.

Regular screenings can help save lives, according to Sister to Sister. Providing heart-health checks where women learn about their individual risk factors and how to reduce them is important to preventing and treating heart disease.

"I strongly encourage women to pay attention to the risk factors and make the necessary lifestyle changes," Carlson said. "I think women are starting to realize they are at greater risk for heart disease."

For more information about heart disease and women, visit or

Washington Township Health Care District has been committed to serving District residents since it was formed in 1948. For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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