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Go Ask Mom

Duke Medicine: Women and heart health

Posted February 7, 2011

Cardiologist Kristin Newby, MD, wants women to know that their number one health risk is not what they think.

Q: What do you think would surprise women about heart disease?

Kristin Newby: Most women believe breast cancer is the biggest threat to their health. It’s not. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Despite all the efforts, women still underestimate the threat of heart disease. Also, the gender gap that exists in regard to heart disease can be very surprising.

Q: What sort of gender gap?

Kristin Newby: Studies show that women are less likely to receive evidence-based therapies than men. We need to better understand what is underlying that phenomenon so we can be sure women are receiving treatments that we know work today. Women are less likely to receive intensive treatments for heart attack, even though they are more likely than men to die within a year of a first recognized heart attack. Women also develop heart disease later in life than men, so they may not worry about it as much as men do. Even the symptoms of heart attack in a woman are often not the classic ones. Instead, they may experience nausea, fatigue, or neck or shoulder pain.

Q: What risk factors should women be aware of?

Kristin Newby: The risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, family history, and diabetes. But metabolic syndrome may be the most important marker for early detection of coronary disease in women. Metabolic syndrome often precedes type 2 diabetes. It is a collection of health risks that includes obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and other abnormal blood work results that your doctor can measure.

For other articles on women and heart health, see the full article on DukeHealth.org.

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