Karen Gorby: Heart Health and Heart Attack in Women: It Looks Different

Karen Gorby, Angel Medical Center President/CNOBy Karen Gorby
President/Chief Nursing Officer, Angel Medical Center

You might have noticed that many people wear red on the first Friday of each February. National Wear Red Day is a symbolic way to raise awareness about women and heart disease, and honor the women in our lives who we’ve lost to, or suffer from, heart disease. February is also National Heart Month, a time when it’s important to review how women can take action to lower their risk for heart disease, become familiar with how the signs and symptoms of a heart attack look different for women, and learn about Angel Medical Center’s (AMC) heart care services.

Heart disease was long considered a man’s disease, but we now know that it’s the No. 1 killer of women, according to the American Heart Association. For that reason and more, it’s especially important that women be aware of heart disease risk factors, which include being overweight, not engaging in enough physical activity, using tobacco, drinking alcohol beyond moderation and having a family history of heart disease. We’ve talked about knowing your numbers in past columns, and being aware of your cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI); those are some of the best ways to keep tabs – in partnership with your primary care physician – on what you can do to lower the likelihood of being diagnosed with heart disease or suffering a heart attack. Another risk factor that’s more unique to women is having diabetes. This illness particularly raises the risk for heart disease, so women’s blood glucose levels should be monitored closely.

AMC’s respected cardiologist Lillia LaPlace, MD, urges women to be assertive in asking questions about their individual risk levels. “Each woman needs to be approached as an individual when assessing heart disease risk. With knowledge of her specific family history, lifestyle practices and overall health status, we can create a customized plan for her to carry out, whether that’s increasing her exercise, cutting out smoking or keeping on top of her blood pressure and cholesterol,” says Dr. LaPlace.

Dr. LaPlace also wants women to know that their symptoms of heart attack may be more subtle than men’s. “Rather than the typical crushing chest discomfort, women tend to experience new shortness of breath, back, jaw and neck pain, pain in one or both arms, unusual fatigue, dizziness and nausea or vomiting,” she explains. “If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s critical to get medical attention without delay; if a woman is treated within one hour of her heart attack, the likelihood of significant heart muscle damage will be diminished, and her chances of survival will be increased,” explains Dr. LaPlace.

Dr. LaPlace also points out that a consistent exercise regimen, such as walking at least 30 minutes a day, can help detect heart disease. “We’re our own best judge when it comes to our physical performance,” she notes, adding that “if you notice a decline in your ability to exercise, if something that was previously easy to get through becomes difficult or if something just doesn’t feel right to you, we need to take that seriously and address it.”

AMC offers a host of diagnostic heart services including stress tests (to see how your heart performs with exercise), ultrasounds and echocardiogram tests (to visualize your heart without x-rays). We also offer remote cardiac monitoring, when a patient is monitored 24-7 for a defined time period while they’re going about their routines at home and at work to assess heart rate and rhythm changes that may be intermittent or subtle.

Should a heart attack occur, our multidisciplinary cardiac rehabilitation program provides services to those recovering from heart attack. Since AMC is part of one of the nation’s Top 15 Health Systems and Mission Hospital is one of nation’s Top 50 Cardiovascular Hospitals (each as recognized by IBM Watson Health), our community members can be confident that they have access to one of the top cardiac programs in the nation.

Finally, I’d like to invite you to join us on Saturday, March 23, for our annual Macon Your Heart Beat 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run/Walk to raise awareness about heart health. Event proceeds allow uninsured and underinsured patients to receive all-important cardiac rehab care. The event starts at 10 am right here at AMC – we hope to see you!

Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE, is the President/Chief Nursing Officer of Angel Medical Center. Gorby is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). For nearly three decades, she has served hospitals and health systems in Ohio before assuming her role at Angel Medical Center. Gorby received her MSN from Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, and her MBA from Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio.