Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., but many women don’t recognize the symptoms, according to one local doctor.
“It’s really been labeled a man’s disease for many years. In women, it’s more commonly written off as anxiety and they’re not taking care of the symptoms,” said Dr. Laura Ford-Mukkamala, a cardiologist at Southeastern Cardiology and Associates. “More women die of heart attacks than cancer.”
Ford-Mukkamala will speak about the symptoms of heart disease in women, as well as treatment and prevention of the disease at St. Francis Hospital’s seventh annual Heart Truth for Women Luncheon on Feb. 8 at St. Luke Ministry Center.
The community education luncheon will also feature a speech from Jackie Gingrich Cushman, a columnist, author and daughter of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Cushman and Gingrich wrote a book together, “5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours.” Cushman’s grandmother, Linda Battley worked as a registered nurse at St. Francis.
Ford-Mukkamala said while many research studies examine the symptoms men experience before having heart attack, few studies have looked at what symptoms women experience.
“Women don’t have to have the elephant sitting on their chest feeling,” she said. A woman having a heart attack may feel fatigued, sweaty, nauseated and short of breath. Heart palpitations and arm or jaw pain can also be a sign, she said.
The symptoms of a heart attack don’t always present as the intense pain women expect, Ford-Mukkamala said, but even feelings of discomfort should be monitored and discussed with a primary care physician.
“It’s really important for women to listen to their discomfort,” she said. “The pressure, the tightness, the burning, that counts.”
The disease also develops differently in women than it does in men.
“They don’t typically have a blockage that’s isolated,” she said. “There’s plaque in the artery in a diffused manner.”
Preventing heart disease is a “lifetime” habit, Ford-Mukkamala said, that begins with promoting healthy living for children. She said many women in their 20s and 30s come to doctors with problems their parents didn’t have until their 40s and 50s, due to childhood obesity.
Ford-Mukkamala recommended women also look at their family history to determine if they are at risk and keep track of their cholesterol and blood pressure.
Smokers should quit the habit, when they can, and diabetics should monitor their disease, since they are also at greater risk for a heart attack.
A heart-healthy diet and regular exercise can also help prevent heart disease, she said.
“A lot of exercise has gone down the tubes because of conveniences,” Ford-Mukkamala said. “Carving that time out is really important.”
Women who have suffered a heart attack should get quick treatment to prevent congestive heart failure.
Depression is common in female cardiac patients, she said and she recommended cardiac rehabilitation as a way to regain confidence when exercising. Patients going through cardiac rehab are monitored while they exercise.
“A lot of people are worried to move again,” she said. “They’re scared it’s going to happen again, when really moving is the best thing they can do.”
Even women who have suffered a heart attack can move on to lead normal lives, she said.
“They can still have a good prognosis,” she said. “It’s amazing what you see people recover from.”
Sara Pauff, reporter, can be reached at 706-320-4469.