It's a silent killer, most women don't even know they have it. It's often thought of as a man's disease and may not receive as much attention as other illnesses, but coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death in women in the U.S. It is so common that if you combine the number of women who die from the next five leading causes of death it would equal the number of women who die from CAD.
"When most people think about heart disease they think about men. Often, heart disease manifests itself earlier in men, but it is nearly as common and just as deadly in women," said Dr. Josephine Dlugopolski-Gach, internist and assistant professor of medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "Whether in men or women heart disease is very dangerous and should be taken seriously."
According to Dlugopolski women's heart disease symptoms can be different from men and not easy to recognize.
Typical symptoms include chest tightness and shortness of breath. More atypical symptoms include:
The risk of CAD in women increases after menopause. Other risk factors include family history, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity.
"Women tend to be really good at taking care of other people, but sometimes forget to take care of themselves. This can be deadly. If a woman has risk factors she needs to be proactive against CAD so she can be around for her loved ones," said Dlugopolski.
Dlugopolski suggests young women should take an active interest in their heart health by:
"I've known marathon runners who were in excellent shape, but because of genetics were at-risk for heart disease.
Living a healthy life is important, but it can be deceiving. If you are at-risk living a healthy lifestyle is only one part of the equation. We can't change our genes, but if we know our family history, get regular screenings, interact with our physician and lead a healthy lifestyle we are better prepared to battle heart disease," said Dlugopolski.
Though taking an aspirin a day can help some people limit their risk of a heart attack Dlugopolski warns that not everyone should do it.
"Taking a daily aspirin has its own risks like internal bleeds and stomach ulcers. If you have risk factors for heart disease talk to your doctor about what is best for your body. Everyone is different," said Dlugopolski.
Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 22 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 570-licensed bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Health & Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 250-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Health & Fitness Center and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.