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Would You Know if You Were Having a Heart Attack?

March 05, 2013

Learn About Women and Heart Disease at Washington Hospital Seminar

If you felt tired and dizzy, would you think you were having a heart attack? It turns out women don't always experience the classic symptom of chest pain when they suffer a heart attack. That tends to be more common in men. Instead, women may feel light-headed and short of breath.

"The symptoms of a heart attack are often different for men and women," said Dr. Pradeep Kumar, a Fremont cardiologist and member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. "Women need to know the signs because their risk of having a heart attack is equal to men's, particularly after menopause."

Heart disease is the number one killer of both women and men in the U.S., according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. In fact, one in four women dies from heart disease each year.

Dr. Kumar will present "Women and Heart: What You Need to Know" on Tuesday, March 19, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The free seminar will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. Register online at www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070 for more information.

Dr. Kumar will first provide an overview of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease for both women and men, he said. It occurs when plaque builds up on the inner walls of the coronary arteries. This plaque buildup - a condition called atherosclerosis - restricts the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This can cause serious heart problems, including irregular heartbeats, angina (chest pain), heart attack, and heart failure, Dr. Kumar explained.

More Common in Women

Coronary microvascular disease is another type of heart disease. It occurs when the heart's tiny arteries are damaged or diseased. Women are more likely than men to have this type of heart disease, according to Dr. Kumar.

He said there are also differences in noninvasive diagnostic testing in women and men. For example, treadmill stress testing has higher false positive rates in women.

"Symptoms for women can include neck pain, vomiting, and sleep disturbances," Dr. Kumar added. "With heart disease, it's important to get an early diagnosis. Don't wait until you are further along in the disease process. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should consult with your physician."

Reducing the Risk

Dr. Kumar will discuss some of the risk factors associated with heart disease and ways to reduce them. Some risk factors are unavoidable such as being older, having a family history of heart disease, and being post-menopausal. But other risk factors can be controlled through lifestyle changes. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity, and stress.

He said it's important to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control. Eating a healthy diet that is low in salt and fat and high in lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy can help.

Getting plenty of physical activity is also important. Regular exercise can help to keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control, and maintain a healthy weight.

"Exercise can also help to reduce stress levels," he added. "If you smoke, you need to quit. Smokers have more than twice the risk for a heart attack than nonsmokers."

Dr. Kumar said people with diabetes need to properly manage the chronic disease. High levels of glucose in the blood can cause atherosclerosis and damage the heart.

He will also talk about medications that can help to keep some of these risk factors under control as well as treatment options for heart disease.

To learn about the Heart Program at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com/heart. For information about other classes and seminars offered at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com.

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