“I thought I had the flu” – it’s how many women describe heart attacks, chalking up symptoms to less worrisome conditions like acid reflux or old age. For many, heart trouble strikes with no symptoms at all.
“Women need to realize that heart disease is their primary killer, more than all cancers combined,” says Dr. Nancy Branyas, director of the Women’s Cardiac Risk Clinic at St.Vincent. “That’s why it’s vital to assess risks.”
Women’s heart disease symptoms often differ from men’s. Classic signs, says Branyas, include mid-chest pressure (not pain), radiating to the jaw or left shoulder, with shortness of breath and nausea. Atypical symptoms might just involve shortness of breath when going up a flight of stairs – something commonly seen with diabetics.
Risk factors include those we can control: obesity, smoking, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure or cholesterol – and those we can’t: genetics and age.
Whatever the case, the time for prevention is as soon as possible, not in our 70’s. “We need to assess what could happen in the future and what we can do now to prevent heart disease,” says Branyas. To that end, Branyas and her team typically start with a full cardiac assessment and, from there, customize next steps to each patient’s needs.
Despite the prevalence of heart disease, Branyas cautions that most wellness centers omit cardiac assessments because they require the expertise of a cardiologist, which most wellness centers don’t have. Branyas’ team will fill that gap at the St.Vincent Carmel Women’s Center. “We were the first to have a cardiac wellness clinic in the Midwest and have dedicated many years to women’s health,” she says. “Now we can offer that expertise alongside other disciplines in one venue.”
Whatever individual assessments reveal, it’s wise to maintain a healthy weight to avert a slew of risks that follow obesity, says Branyas. She also urges women not to ignore symptoms or delay calling for help: “If you notice a change in what you can do physically, you need to be evaluated.”
Bottom line, know where your heart health stands and what you can do to impact it. “Let us give you the tools,” Branyas concludes, “we’ll help you along the way.”
This March, St.Vincent Carmel Women’s Center launches a new era in healthcare access for women at each stage of their lives. Join us for the Grand Opening event on Saturday, March 14, for a day of fun events, including free giveaways, tours, health screenings and more! Visit stvincent.org/womenscenter for more information.