Protect your heart

Stethoscope in heart shape on scrubs

Many women diagnosed with heart disease have one thing in common –shock that it happened to them. 

Yet, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. About 44 million U.S. women are affected by cardiovascular disease, and heart attacks kill six times as many women as breast cancer. 

So why the shock? More and more, women know that heart disease doesn't just happen to men. But what women may not realize is that, according to the CDC, almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. For many women survivors, their heart attack or stroke may have been the very first sign. 

Women may experience heart disease differently 

The typical sign of a heart attack is chest pain, called angina.  

"But women are more likely than men to have unusual symptoms during a cardiac event," says Shimoli Shah, M.D., a general cardiologist at the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute who leads the joint program with the Center for Women's Health in women's heart care. "Things like fatigue, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal discomfort are all more common in women." 

Heart disease prevention 

Heart attacks can happen for a variety of reasons, at any age, but the good news is that the majority are preventable by knowing your risk and living a healthy lifestyle. 

Dr. Shah urges women to stay informed about their health. "Know your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels," she says. If your numbers are high, that could be a sign of heart disease or other health problems. 

Some risk factors, like a family history of heart disease, are beyond your control, but your lifestyle plays by far the biggest role in your risk. "Don't smoke," says Dr. Shah. "Exercise and cooking and eating healthy foods make a big difference." 

At the Knight Cardiovascular Institute, the preventive cardiology team specializes in helping those at risk for a heart attack or stroke decrease that risk. Not sure if you're at risk? Check out their online heart health risk assessment tool

Mending your heart 

For women who have already experienced a heart attack or stroke, a full and happy life is still possible! On February 7, the OHSU Center for Women's Health and Knight Cardiovascular Institute are together launching Mended Hearts, a woman-centered program for survivors.  

"The program is based on peer-to-peer support," says Dr. Shah. "Women can connect with others who have had a similar event, share their concerns and support each other." 

If you're a survivor, we hope you'll join us.  

Mended Hearts: First Wednesday of the month, beginning March 7, 2018
4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. 

OHSU Center for Women's Health 
Kohler Pavilion, 7th Floor 
3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road 
Portland, OR 97239 

RSVP or learn more: call 503-418-1968 or email mendedhearts@ohsu.edu