The Doctor Is In: Women and Heart Disease

From raising children to maintaining busy work schedules and keeping up with household chores, women’s lives are more hectic than ever. Women often put everyone else in their family first, but it’s important that they take time for their own health.

Dr. “Dee” Prastein, heart surgeon at Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, talks about women and heart disease, encouraging all of us to “Just Say Know.”

Prastein_Labcoat_Standing_ORWhat differences have you noticed between men and women with heart disease?
Women tend to delay things, living with heart disease longer and presenting later. We see women who go about their routine chores while having chest pain or chest discomfort, ignoring or dismissing it. Sometimes they live with symptoms until they become so tired that they physically can’t do anything. It’s only then that they see a doctor.

What do women tell you about why they didn’t see a doctor sooner?
They seem to be focused on everyone except them. They put their families first. We see wives encouraging their husbands to see a doctor, but women often live with symptoms until they can no longer hide them.

How can heart surgery be different for men and women?
Women do really well with heart surgery because they seem to tolerate pain better than men. Also, older patients often tolerate pain better than younger ones.

How does smoking affect our hearts?
Nicotine causes hardening of the blood vessels, making them more stiff and narrow. That hardening of the arteries makes blockages more apparent sooner. You could say nicotine is the opposite of nitroglycerin, which allows blood vessels to become bigger.

What about diabetes?
With diabetes, high levels of sugar in your bloodstream allow the buildup of plaque in every blood vessel in your body, including the arteries in your heart.

What message do you have for women about heart disease?
I want women to know that it’s not normal to have no energy or to have chest discomfort such as pain or burning. If you do, see your doctor. Women who smoke, have a family history of heart disease or have diabetes should be especially careful. Don’t ignore symptoms. We can treat them and prevent a major heart attack.

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