GENEVA – Heart disease has been identified as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, and Dr. Michelle Montpetit, a cardiologist at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, educates patients about avoiding heart disease and when to call 911.
“A heart attack is when the coronary artery of the heart is blocked and that causes lack of blood flow, and the heart muscle can die from that,” Montpetit said. “The symptoms that are most commonly seen on television is that the man grabs his chest … and has heavy chest pressure and just collapses. That is really not how most heart attacks happen in anyone, and in women, it is even more nonspecific.”
Classic symptoms of a heart attack are chest pressure going up to the jaw and down the left arm and sweating, she said.
“Heart attacks are a very common killer of women,” Montpetit said. “And in women, sometimes the chest pressure is not there. It can be an uneasy feeling, it can be some pain in the neck and jaw – almost always on left side – sometimes on both sides, not usually just on the right.”
Women’s heart attack symptoms can begin with back pain that starts in the middle and radiates to the middle of the chest. A woman’s heart attack can begin with pain that starts in middle of the body and radiates more to the back than to the chest, she said.
“Also breaking out in a sweat, which women at menopausal age tend to do,” Montpetit said. “It would be something distinctly different than a hot flash.”
The incidence of heart disease among women is nearly 50 percent, she said.
Heart disease, which can include coronary artery disease, rhythm problems or heart failure, affects almost one in two to three women, she said.
“Some diseases that are more common in women is heart failure that occurs in older women,” Montpetit said. “Diastolic heart failure ... is when the heart is stiff. And a loss of estrogen contributes to that stiffening occurring after menopause. [It is] more common with high blood pressure, and it isn’t that the heart isn’t pumping, but it’s not relaxing well because it’s stiff and then fluid builds up and you get shortness of breath.”
Many heart problems can be attributed not directly to obesity but to the things obesity causes or is associated with, Montpetit said.
“Obesity leads to diabetes, which is becoming extremely prevalent … more than 23 million Americans have diabetes, and 57 million have pre-diabetes,” Montpetit said. “ I do find that women do not like to admit that they have diabetes.”
Among the things people can address to reduce the incidence of heart attack is maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke, watch blood pressure and cholesterol, and get exercise.
A moderate amount of exercise, 2.5 hours a week, best done in 25- to 35-minute increments that raise the heart rate for 30 minutes at a time, is the best goal, she said.
“Walking at a slow pace is good, but you should walk at a brisk pace so your heart rate gets up,” she said. “If you have bad knees, swimming is good.”