Guard Your Heart: Five Tips for Women

With new research showing how women with heart disease may be less than half as likely as men to receive potentially life-saving implantable cardiac defibrillators, many women may worry that they are not getting the best possible care for their heart conditions.

Fortunately, there are steps that patients can take to ensure that they get the best care. Dr. Sharonne Hayes, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says women who keep certain tips in mind could increase the chances that they receive the care they need for their hearts.

Know your cardiac risk factors.
Despite the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, many are under the impression that heart disease is primarily a disease that affects men.

As a result, women with certain risk factors — such as smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol — may not be on the lookout for heart trouble.

"Women should know what their cardiac risk factors are, so they know whether they are at risk of a heart attack," Hayes says.

If you're a woman with a number of these risk factors, you should be particularly vigilant when it comes to possible symptoms.

Know the symptoms of a heart attack.
This tip may well be easier said than done. Hayes notes that most people, women included, often associate heart attacks with crushing chest pain.

While such pain can certainly indicate a problem, so, too, can other symptoms — pressure in the chest, profuse sweating or pain in other parts of the body, for example.

"What I like to emphasize to women is that they need to know all these symptoms of a heart attack," Hayes says.

Being aware of these signs makes it more likely that a woman will be able to recognize the signs of a heart attack if they ever suffer one.

If you suspect a problem, follow through.
Women who worry about raising a false alarm must bear in mind that a heart attack is a serious matter that must be dealt with quickly and effectively. This means calling 911, and taking all other necessary steps to ensure that the nature of any symptoms they are experiencing are identified.

"It's always better to be safe than sorry," Hayes says. "So what if you come back home after it was just indigestion? You have to take symptoms seriously and do something about them."

Be vocal about your symptoms.
This applies whether a woman is in an ambulance heading to a hospital, or if she is in a doctor's office due to symptoms she feels may signal a heart attack.

"If a woman is afraid that she is having a heart attack, she should say it out loud," Hayes says. "This will most likely prompt medical personnel to do tests that can rule out a heart attack."

It also allows for better communication between a woman and doctors or emergency medical personnel, possibly increasing the chances that a woman will be taken to the center that offers the best possible heart care.

"Ask questions to make sure you are being considered for the fastest, best and most advanced care," Hayes suggests.

Demand results from your doctor.
Regardless of whether your symptoms point toward heart problems or not, if you have brought these concerns up with your doctor, you should not leave the office without a diagnosis, a treatment plan, a referral or some combination of these outcomes.

And if you're not satisfied, Hayes suggests seeking a second opinion.

"You've only got one heart, and if something goes wrong, you're up a tree," she says. "If you feel dismissed, patronized or not listened to, you should find another doctor."