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Pregnancy Complications Point to Warning Signs of Future Heart Disease 

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Heart to Heart: Women Have Additional Risk Factors than Men When it Comes to Heart Disease

By Carl Hartman, M.D., medical director of cardiac services at Sentara Heart Hospital


 Carl Hartman, M.D., medical director of cardiac services at Sentara Heart Hospital

NORFOLK, VA (April 6, 2011) – We can all probably agree men and women are different in many ways. But for the first time, the American Heart Association recently released tips specifically for women about preventing heart disease.  

New information suggests three pregnancy complications are warning signs of future heart disease, according to the newly updated American Heart Association’s cardiovascular disease prevention guidelines for women. 

Women who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and pregnancy-related high blood pressure are now considered at risk for heart disease. These women were not previously considered at risk. 

If you’ve developed one of these complications during pregnancy, you may have a risk factor for heart disease equal to failing a stress test, a tool doctors use for diagnosing heart disease. I would encourage all women who have had these conditions to ask their primary care physicians what their risks are for heart disease and to develop a plan for lowering or better managing their risks. 

The guidelines also suggest other illnesses like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are linked to greater risk of heart disease. These conditions have not traditionally been closely linked to heart disease in the past.  

Heart Attack Symptoms

For Women: 
Jaw or upper body pain
Cold sweats
Shortness of breath
Sudden light headedness or dizziness

For Men: 
Chest Pain
Pressure in the chest

Other studies over the past 20 years suggest heart disease is not diagnosed as early in women as men and that women do not receive as aggressive treatment for heart disease as their male counterparts.  More recent studies do show some movement on this issue, and it appears that the gender gap may be closing but reports of differences still exist.

My advice to women is to know your risks for heart disease, including these newly identified indicators.  Women who are at greater risk of heart disease should make choices to lower their risks. Above all, stop smoking, lose weight, if you are overweight, and get more exercise. What you eat makes a big difference to over-all and heart health By following the guidelines to eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, we could all lower our risks of heart disease.

When A Heart Attack Happens – Don’t Delay
Many studies suggest symptoms vary between men and women. For women, symptoms of heart attack can include: jaw or upper body pain, cold sweats, nausea, shortness of breath, and sudden light headedness or dizziness. These symptoms can last for hours, days or weeks.  Some of the more classical heart attack symptoms, such as pressure and pain in the chest and left arm are more often associated with men.  

Some advice remains consistent for men and women — Don’t delay! If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Emergency medical responders are best equipped to begin treatment on the scene, giving you the best chance of survival.

Related Links:
American Heart Association
Heart Attack Care at Sentara
Sentara Heart Services
Sentara Heart Hospital

Carl Hartman, M.D. is a board certified cardiologist practicing with Cardiovascular Associates. He serves as the medical director of cardiac services at Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk, Va. Dr. Hartman is also an associate professor of medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. He received his doctor of medicine (MD) degree at State University of New York at Syracuse and completed his postgraduate training at Duke University.

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