Heart specialist IDs red flags for women

Selfless tendencies ought not to preclude women from being vigilant of their own heart health, a cardiologist says.

Media Contact: Brian Donohue - 206-534-7856, bdonohue@uw.edu

During American Heart Month in February, women can show themselves some love by becoming aware of numbers that affect their lives: blood pressure, cholesterol and lipid levels, weight and body mass index (BMI).  

Too often, women are prone to be caregivers for others while subordinating or ignoring their own health, says Dr. Ruchi Kapoor, a cardiologist at the UW Medicine Heart Institute.  

“They're more likely to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack in respect to other people — for their loved ones, their children, their partners — and take care of them first before they recognize it in themselves.”   

Such selflessness, Kapoor adds, contributes to cardiovascular disease being the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, responsible for about one in three deaths per year, according to the American Heart Association.  

Women also face cardiovascular risk factors that men do not, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, which can develop in pregnancy, and an increase in risk after menopause. Some treatments for breast cancer can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.  

Women also are prone to experience a wider range of symptoms with a heart attack, not just the classic chest pain depicted in movies and TV, Kapoor said. When these symptoms are misinterpreted or ignored, a heart attack’s impact can have longevity: The AHA reports that women face a 20% increased risk of developing heart failure or dying within five years of an initial, severe heart attack.  

“I can't emphasize enough that women and doctors need to take their symptoms seriously. A lot of times it might be just, ‘I'm getting very short of breath, I'm getting nauseous, I'm having jaw pain’ — and it's a failure to recognize that those are still symptoms of heart attack that leads to delay in care for them,” Kapoor said.  

She recommends the AHA’s “Life’s Essential 8” checklist as a guide for improving and supporting heart health.  

Download broadcast-ready soundbites with Kapoor on women’s heart health. 

UW Medicine