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Three Steps to Women’s Heart Health

Expert recommends education, healthy lifestyle and testing

Women's heart health

By Deb Song

Most women ignore heart disease risks and need to better recognize their own sex-specific symptoms of the illness, according to a special report that the American Heart Association released Jan. 25. Despite all of the attention heart disease has received over the last decade, women are still at high risk, and cardiovascular disease is still the number one cause of death here in the U.S.

Annabelle S. Volgman, MD, one of the committee members behind the report, urges women and their loved ones to start taking a three-pronged approach regarding their heart health — and to start now during February, which is American Heart Month.

“One of the challenges women face with heart health is that they often manifest symptoms of heart disease and heart attack differently and less obviously than men, which makes them difficult to spot,” says Volgman, who is professor of medicine and medical director of the Rush Heart Center for Women. In fact, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms, according to the American Heart Association.

To protect their lives and their health, Volgman urges women to take the following three steps:

  1. Get educated — Know the signs and symptoms of heart disease, especially coronary artery disease, its most common form. “Women complain of nausea, restless sleep and fatigue,” Volgman says.  
  2. Get heart healthy — Follow a healthy diet, exercise and know your risk factors for heart disease.
  3. Get tested — “Recent technology has given us an array of tests not only to identify but also to rule out coronary artery disease,” Volgman says “It's important to talk with your doctor about which one is right for you.”

New heart test accounts for differences in sexes

Most commons tests for coronary artery disease, or CAD, do not take into consideration cardiovascular differences between men and women, and often yield higher rates of inaccuracies or false positives. However, a blood test called Corus CAD is available that accounts for critical biological differences between women and men. “It’s the only available test that does it,” Volgman says.

With a 96 percent negative predictive value and 89 percent sensitivity, Corus CAD can help cliniicans safely, accurately and quickly rule out obstructive CAD as the source of their patients’ symptoms, so doctors may look to other causes.

“It's great to have different tests that I can use to help my reassure my patients that they don't have severe blockages in the arteries of their heart,” Volgman says.

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