Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
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Women's Heart Health Holiday Q and A

Houston, TX - 12/13/2007

Heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer for women, and December and January are the deadliest months of the year for heart disease.

The well-known heart attack symptoms – acute pain, tightness, burning and a dull ache in the chest – describe what men typically experience during an attack. For many women the signs of a heart attack are completely different and can go unrecognized. Especially during the holidays, women tend to ignore signs of heart attack, thus increasing the likelihood of tragic consequences. With heightened attention to the facts about symptoms and treatments, much of this can be prevented.

Dr. Karla Kurrelmeyer, cardiologist who specializes in women’s heart disease at the Methodist DeBakey Heart Center in Houston, offers the following information for women:

Q: What are the symptoms of a heart attack for women?
A: Nausea, shoulder pain and exhaustion can be the only signs a female experiences during an attack.

Q: Are heart attacks more deadly in women?
A: Heart disease tends to come later in women than in men, on average 10 years after menopause. Women are more likely to die from their heart attacks because women tend to delay getting help. Most people know to get to an emergency room immediately when they’ve identified that they’re having a heart attack. However, research shows that women go to the hospital on average one full hour later than men do after experiencing an attack. Most benefits of medical treatment occur in the first six hours after an attack, so delayed medical treatment reduces chances of full recovery.

Q: What is a good treatment for women?
A: Clot-buster drugs may be immediately given to break up the clot and allow blood to get through to the heart. If necessary a balloon or a stent can be placed in the clogged artery to open the artery and strengthen the artery wall. Sometimes surgery and other procedures are required, depending on the situation.

Q: What should women do to prevent heart attacks?
A: In general, maintain low cholesterol levels. Exercise. Quit smoking. If you have diabetes, keep it under control. Monitor your blood pressure, and keep it in check. Know your family medical history. If there’s a history of heart disease, start earlier and be even more diligent about prevention. And even if you are cooking a holiday meal, if you feel symptoms of a heart attack, go to the emergency room immediately.

For more information on the Methodist DeBakey Heart Center, see www.debakeyheartcenter.com.