Women have an amazing ability to compromise and compensate when it comes to their health. They carry on through pain and illness, and ignore warning signs before seeking medical care. Most are unaware that heart disease is the greatest threat to their health.
“I recall one patient, a single mother, who needed bypass surgery but didn‘t want to leave her 12-year-old son or take time off from work,” says Elizabeth Kaback, MD, a Scripps cardiologist.
“This is just one way heart disease affects women differently than men,” continues Dr. Kaback. “Historically, women’s symptoms are more subtle, and their response to them is often delayed. Women may feel tired or easily fatigued, but they minimize or explain away what is happening and dismiss the signs.”
There are anatomical distinctions as well. Women tend to develop diffuse arterial plaque that tends to build up evenly in their arteries, which are smaller than a man’s. This is significant because it makes it harder for doctors to see a blockage in a woman’s arteries. The challenge is compounded when women delay seeking medical care.
According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, women wait longer than men to go to the emergency room when they are having a heart attack. And they are less likely than men to present with chest pain and EKG changes. As a result, physicians are slower to recognize heart attacks in women.
“My hope as an integrative cardiologist is to educate women on the importance of eating right, managing stress, getting blood pressure checks and lowering cholesterol naturally with lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Kaback. “It’s just as important to teach women to recognize symptoms early on and act upon them quickly and appropriately.”
“When I first became a cardiologist, I realized that we could ”fix” patients after a heart attack with a stent, but this was a ‘quick fix,’” Dr. Kaback says. “If we didn’t get to the underlying cause of the disease, chances were we would see them again with the same or a worse problem. Long-term wellness is dependent on a patient‘s willingness to make lifestyle changes, and our ability as teachers and counselors to guide them every step of the way.”
At Scripps, we not only offer programs and services that empower women to live heart-healthy lives, but we connect them with a strong network of support.