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Women at higher risk for heart disease

By Vincent D. Scebbi
On November 16, 2009

Lucas County is the unhealthiest county in Ohio for a woman's heart and the fifth least heart-friendly in the nation, according to Donna Woodson, the director of women's health on the Health Science Campus.

Woodson spoke during Thursday's Brown Bag Seminar hosted by the Catherine S. Eberly Center for Women, which discussed women and heart diseases. Her presentation was called "A Woman's Heart: There Is a Difference."

Woodson said a reason that has caused Lucas County to be unhealthy for the heart is the large amount of people who smoke, which is directly proportional to the risk of heart disease.

"Smoking four cigarettes a day doubles the risk of a heart attack or cardiovascular disease," she said. "We were the smokiest county in the country. The Clean Air Act has helped us see a reduction."

According to Woodson, there are risk factors for heart disease can be identified, such as age, sex or family history, and risk factors that can be modified, such as diabetes, smoking and exercise

"Sixty-seven percent of women are either overweight or obese and this is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease," she said. "Fifty-two percent of women exercise less than three days a week; 30 percent are diagnosed with high blood pressure and 25 percent smoke."

According to Woodson, who is also a professor of family medicine, heart disease is the number one killer of women above the age of 25 and one in 2.6 female deaths are from cardiovascular disease whereas only one in 30 are from breast cancer.

The idea that breast cancer kills more women than heart disease above the age of 25 each year is a common misconception, Woodson said.

One example of a cardiovascular disease is a heart attack. According to Woodson, heart attacks are more difficult to identify in females than males and are more difficult to identify on an electrocardiogram monitor, which measures the electrical activity of the heart.

"Heart attacks are more severe in women because we are generally older when we have our first heart attack," she said. "Many of [female] heart attacks, however, don't show typical changes that a man might on an EKG monitor."

Woodson gave some examples of possible symptoms of a heart attack.

"Discomfort is more common in the upper chest, neck, jaw. Another one is shortness of breath and that maybe one of the only symptoms. Weakness or fatigue is another symptom … dizziness, cold sweats, feelings of anxiety."

"Ninety-five percent of women up to one month before their heart attack had new, different, or physical symptoms," she said. "Forty-three percent had no chest pain from heart attack and instead of pain they had a pressure sensation."

Women are at a higher risk of dying after a heart attack than men, according to Woodson.

"After a heart attack, women had a twofold risk of dying in the first two weeks after the heart attack compared to men," she said.

Woodson said the best way to prevent heart diseases is to recognize the dangers and become educated about them.

"We need to acknowledge the problem; for ourselves and for our loved ones and for the ones who are under our care," she said.

Some students at UT are doing what they can to prevent becoming a victim of cardiovascular disease.

"My family has a history of high blood pressure and I try to keep as healthy as I can now," said Molly Valasek, a freshman majoring in nursing.

Valasek added she tries "to eat right and exercise regularly. I try to maintain the healthy lifestyle."

Woodson concluded her presentation by quoting Marie Curie.

"‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.' [The quote] shows how education is important in heart disease. I hope this education will benefit [the audience]," she said.

Valasek agreed with Woodson.

"I think [people] should inform the younger generation. That way they can do what they can to prepare for the future."

Nicole Scherry, a freshman majoring in exercise science, agreed that people should be more aware of cardiovascular disease and that awareness should be promoted more through events like Woodson's presentation.

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