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Heart Disease Holds Special Danger for Women

Women typically experience different oncoming heart attack symptoms than men.
Women are more at risk to die from heart disease than men.
To beat the odds, women should understand the unique symptoms
for heart attack and take special preventive steps to protect their hearts.

While many Americans are aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States, fewer are familiar with how the epidemic particularly affects women. More women than men die from heart disease each year, and after a heart attack, women are more likely to die from related complications. Currently, cardiovascular disease (CVD) kills nearly twice as many American women than all types of cancer combined.

Alice K. Jacobs, M.D., director of the Cardiac Catherization Laboratory and Interventional Cardiology at Boston Medical Center and professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, specializes in cardiovascular disease in women and the sex-based differences in the epidemiology, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of ischemic heart disease.

“The risk factors that contribute to heart disease are the same for men and women—high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, inactivity and obesity—and the treatment of coronary heart disease is effective in both men and women,” says Dr. Jacobs.

However, when it comes to heart attacks, women typically experience different symptoms than men and may fail to recognize their discomfort as an oncoming heart attack. While women can experience “text book” symptoms such as tightness in the chest and shortness of breath, symptoms can also present as nausea, overwhelming fatigue and dizziness, which can be more easily ignored or attributed to another ailment. Dr. Jacobs advises calling 911 within five minutes of the onset of symptoms, so that a heart attack victim can benefit from life-saving treatment as quickly as possible.


“Women need to take charge of their own heart health,” says Dr. Jacobs. “Although we offer expert, state-of-the-art care for heart disease here at BMC, women and men can do much in their daily lives to avoid becoming a victim of heart disease.”

To get heart healthy, Dr. Jacobs recommends that women avoid smoking, get plenty of exercise, maintain a healthy weight and eat a healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) supplements are also beneficial to women at high-risk for CVD. If a woman has recently had a heart attack, angina, angioplasty, stent procedure or bypass surgery, joining a cardiac rehabilitation program can also improve outcomes.

Dr. Jacobs is a former president of the American Heart Association (AHA) and recently received the Gold Heart Award, the association’s highest honor. As AHA President she provided critical leadership in the launch of the association’s initiative Go Red for Women, a public awareness program focused on heart disease in women. She currently leads the Cardiac Catherization Laboratory and Interventional Cardiology in BMC’s Cardiovascular Center. The Cardiovascular Center offers advanced non-invasive cardiac imaging, next-generation interventional cardiology, robotic cardiac surgery, cutting-edge cardiovascular translational therapies and a new 12-bed coronary care unit designed to care for critically ill cardiovascular patients. Learn more about BMC’s Cardiovascular Center.

BMC recently received the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines – Coronary Artery Disease Gold Performance Achievement Award. The award recognizes BMC’s commitment and success in implementing a higher standard of cardiac care that effectively improves treatment of patients hospitalized with coronary artery disease.