There are many ways in which women differ from men when it comes to heart disease, and women need to be aware of these differences to ensure they're getting the best care.
So says Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and chief of the Women's Heart Program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. She's written the book "Women are Not Small Men: Life-Saving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Disease in Women."
In part two of this week's heart disease series on The Early Show, Goldberg urges women not to be afraid to talk to their doctors if they're feeling unusual symptoms that may be heart-related. She also says women need to know of symptoms men don't necessarily get that could be signs of heart trouble.
Goldberg tells co-anchor Rene Syler, "(Women's) hearts are smaller and the arteries that supply our heart muscle are smaller. In the '80s, it was very common for the doctors to use the same size tools to do heart procedures on men and women, and women had more complications because the tools were too big."
Women's heart attack symptoms aren't necessarily the same as men's. Women may experience shortness of breath, feeling faint or light-headed, unusual fatigue, or upper-abdominal pressure.
"I think," Goldberg observed, "we've all had that. But take, for instance, a woman who has never been sick before but may have risk factors for heart disease. All of a sudden, she gets shortness of breath when she walks, then she finds that she can't do as much walking as before. Then, one day, she's so short of breath that she has to go to hospital. That happened to one of my patients. Interestingly enough, she was only in her 50s, and when she got to the hospital, the doctor told her she had a heart attack. She was absolutely surprised. But being a woman, the first thing she thought about was who was going to pick her 10-year-old daughter up from school."
Women are often afraid to go to their doctor and talk about these kinds of symptoms Goldberg noted: "Women don't want to be embarrassed getting to the hospital, being told that something isn't wrong. Oftentimes, women were told they were stressed when they had a heart attack. I had a patient who was…a smoker, overweight and had a family history of heart disease. And one of the doctors she went to said she was just having tightness in her throat because she was stressed out."
Men often take aspirin to try to ward off heart disease, but Goldberg says research shows "not all women benefit from an aspirin a day. A woman under 65 who has no risk factors for heart disease doesn't get any additional prevention by taking an aspirin a day. However, women who already have heart disease, or who have diabetes, a family history, or multiple risk factors for heart disease, do benefit from aspirin. So, if you take an aspirin a day and you're at low risk, instead of benefiting your heart you may actually have an increase in stomach upset."
As for prevention, Goldberg advises keeping tabs on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and getting checked for diabetes. Also, be aware of your family history and limit intake of simple sugars and carbohydrates.
What's more: "Foods we thought were bad for you, actually, in moderation, may be good. Dark chocolate and wine have antioxidants that keep our blood vessels flexible. So do nuts. In fact, nuts have good fats, monounsaturated fats that don't raise our cholesterol."
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