February is Heart Month, a time when the American Heart Association raises awareness about the risk for heart disease in women. In this podcast, we talked to Dr. Katie Berlacher, UPMC cardiologist and director of the Magee-Womens Heart Program, about methods to prevent heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women in the United States.
Heart disease is often underrecognized as a serious threat to women. Recently, experts have started to redefine the disease with a focus on women, recognizing that it does not always present in the exact the same way as men, who have been the primary treatment standard in the past.
“When it comes to detecting heart disease, it’s important to know the risk factors,” Berlacher said. “Women and men share the same traditional risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease at a young age. There are also certain risk factors specific to women, which include hypertension during pregnancy, diabetes during pregnancy and rheumatologic diseases.”
In some cases, heart disease is preventable. The No. 1 prevention method is to stop smoking. Physical activity – meaning exercise for 20 minutes each day – can also lower your risk. One of the most important things women need to know is when to seek care from a physician. Some symptoms to be cautious of include chest pressure, chest heaviness, shortness of breath and neck, arm or jaw pain. If you have any of these symptoms, visit a doctor to determine if they are related to heart troubles.