According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. It is also preventable. The Emory Women’s Heart Center is a program dedicated to the screening, prevention and treatment of heart disease in women.
The number of women at risk is startling. “Believe it or not, a very small percentage of women fall into the low risk category for heart disease, and those people are mostly in their twenties,” says Stacy Jaskwhich, a nurse practitioner at Emory’s Johns Creek’s Women’s Heart Center. “When you consider family history, age, diet, activity levels and other existing conditions such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, most women are at some level of risk.”
“Most heart disease is preventable, so we want to reach these women, ideally between the ages of 40-60, to evaluate their individual risks and educate them on risk reduction. Starting treatment early, when it’s necessary, will help save lives,” says Gina Lundberg, MD, clinical director of Emory Women’s Heart Center and assistant professor of medicine, Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Lundberg founded Georgia’s first women’s cardiac prevention program in 1998. She also launched the Emory Saint Joseph’s Heart Center for Women in 2007.
The Emory Women’s Heart Center offers comprehensive cardiac risk assessments and education for women at risk for heart disease. If necessary, the Center can also assist with referrals. Screenings are beneficial to those who have a family history of heart disease or risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, smoking, and/or diabetes. The initial two hour screening includes a review of family history of heart disease and a comprehensive global risk assessment that includes age, blood pressure, total cholesterol level, HDL level, blood glucose, smoking history, pregnancy history, hypertension history, and individualized education based on your risk factors. Screenings can be self-referred and start at $75. Gift certificates are also available to purchase for loved ones.
Women often experience symptoms that are different than those experienced from men. For example, women may not experience chest pain. Because of this, women must understand that heart attack symptoms may be similar to those of panic disorders, muscle strain, indigestion or influenza.
Rapid intervention is most effective in beginning stages of a heart attack. Damage to heart muscle starts within 30 minutes of the onset of symptoms, and according to the Society of Chest Pain Centers (SCPC), 85% of heart damage occurs within the first two hours – sometimes irreversible. Call 911 as soon as the first symptoms of a heart attack appear.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
- Chest pain or discomfort: It may feel like a squeezing, pressure, heaviness, tightness or fullness.
- Heaviness or pain in areas other than the chest: This symptom is more common in women. The pain or pressure can be gradual or sudden. It may come and go, gradually intensify, or awaken one from sleep. Areas that are common include the back, neck, jaw or arms.
- Cold sweats: This symptom can occur without chest discomfort. If there is no obvious reason for sweating, such as exercise or hot flashes, consider contact your physician.
- Fatigue: Some women may experience an inability to complete routine tasks. This can be due to extreme tiredness or a decrease in energy level.
- Nausea: This can be mistaken for other problems, such as influenza, heartburn, or stomach ulcers.
- Shortness of breath: This can occur with minimal activity or with activities that previously did not cause difficulty with breathing. This is especially important for people with diabetes, as they are less likely to experience chest pain.
- Lightheadedness: This symptom may occur with activity or in conjunction with any of the other symptoms.