Go Red: The Truth About a Woman's Heart

WebMD Live Events Transcript

The truth is that women experience heart disease differently from men. And one out of every two women will die of of it. Nieca Goldberg, MD, spokesperson for the American Heart Association's "Go Red" campaign, joined us Feb. 3 to answer questions about about your heart.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Goldberg. In your book, Women Are Not Small Men , you discuss the differences in how women and men experience heart disease. Can you please explain those differences to our members?

We always think of a picture of a heart attack as a 165-pound man. But, women also have heart attacks. In fact, more women than men die of heart attacks in our country.

Although chest pressure is shared by women and men, women frequently have symptoms like shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue, pressure in the lower portion of the chest that they easily mistake for a stomach problem or upper back pressure, so it's important for women to know all the warning signs of a heart attack.

Another difference is that women experience symptoms of a heart attack about 10 years later than a man, so you see more men in their 40s and 50s having a heart attack. However, if a woman under 50 has a heart attack, she's twice as likely to die of that heart attack. So, women of all ages need to learn how to reduce their risk of heart disease.

What are the risk factors for heart disease in women?

The risk factors for heart disease in women include:

"If we screen women earlier, we have a greater chance of reducing the risk."

At what age should a woman get a cardiac evaluation?

One of the most common tests we have to diagnose heart disease risk is a cholesterol test. The current recommendation is that women should have their first cholesterol test in their 20s. If the test is normal, it does not have to be repeated for 5 years. However, if it is abnormal and requires treatment, testing is more frequent.

Young women who are considering oral contraceptives for birth control should have their blood pressure and Cholesterol checked.

There are other tests women should have. If a woman is in her 50s and she has not had her heart disease risk factors checked, she should have her cholesterol and blood pressure checked and her sugar checked for diabetes. If she's never exercised and considering an exercise program she should have a stress test. In addition, women of any age who have diabetes should be evaluated for heart disease, particularly by stress testing and getting their cholesterol checked. Every woman should also be advised about quitting smoking.

If we screen women earlier, we have a greater chance of reducing the risk.

How important is a strong family history of heart disease? Am I doomed to get it?

That's a very good question. If you have a strong family history of heart disease, that does increase your risk by 25 to 50 percent. I don't like people to feel they're doomed to get heart disease however, because we are getting better at evaluating the common risk factors in women and learning about new risk factors that place women at risk so that we can start our prevention programs earlier.

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