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Don’t Underestimate Your Risk of Heart Disease

More women die from heart disease than from anything else.

The American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health have been trying to raise awareness for several years, but the message doesn’t seem to be getting through to enough women: Heart disease is not just a disease that affects men. More women die from heart disease than from any other cause of death in the United States — including all forms of cancer.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women,” said Dr. Tochi Okwuosa, a cardiovascular disease specialist with DMC Women’s Health Services. “But recent research suggests only about 50 percent of women in the United States understand heart disease is the leading cause of death for women.” Heart disease is also a major cause of disability in women.

A woman’s risk of heart disease increases dramatically during mid-life, in part because her body stops producing estrogen.*
Source: NIH – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to develop heart disease. But women of all ages should be concerned about heart disease. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of getting heart disease.

  • Know your blood pressure and keep it under control
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don't smoke
  • Get tested for diabetes and if you have it, keep it under control
  • Know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and keep them under control
  • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and avoid saturated and trans fat
  • Maintain a healthy weight

    • According to the American Heart Association, 80 percent of cardiac events in women could be prevented if women made the right lifestyle choices.

      Beyond Prevention
      But not all cardiac events can be prevented, so it’s important to know the unique ways heart attacks can present themselves in women. “It’s true that the symptoms of heart attacks are often different for women than for men,” said Dr. Okwuosa. “In women, the symptoms tend to be milder and may be confused for other problems.”

      According to the American Heart Association, women’s heart attack symptoms often include:
      • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. It may last more than a few minutes or go away and then come back.
      • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
      • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
      • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.
      As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms — particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain.

      If you experience any of these symptoms and think you may be having a heart attack, don’t wait. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately.

      “I advise every woman to keep a few aspirin in her purse,” Dr. Okwuosa said. “If you think you’re having a heart attack, chew an aspirin and get to the hospital immediately.”

      The blood-thinning effects of aspirin can help improve blood flow during a heart attack. Studies have shown people who take aspirin during a heart attack are more likely to survive. 

      Facts about Women’s Heart Health

      • Heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women in the United States.
      • More women die of cardiovascular disease than from the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.
      • More women than men die of heart disease each year.
      • 80 percent of cardiac events in women could be prevented if women made the right choices for their hearts involving diet, exercise and abstinence from smoking.
      • More than 42 million women are currently living with some form of cardiovascular disease.
      • More than 8 million women have a history of heart attack and/or angina.
      • Women with diabetes are 2.5 times more likely to have heart attacks.
      • Women often experience the symptoms of heart attack differently than men. Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms that are unrelated to chest pain.
      • Taking an aspirin during a heart attack increases your chance of survival.
      • Studies have shown that chewing an aspirin, not swallowing it, provides a significantly faster blood-thinning effect during a heart attack.
      • A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.




      Sources: American Heart Association, The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease


      Tochukwu E. M. Okwuosa, D.O.

      Tochukwu E. M. Okwuosa, D.O. is board certified in internal medicine and controlled substances. Dr. Okwuosa graduated with a B.S. Biochemistry and a minor in Microbiology from the University of Niagara before obtaining a B.A. in Biology from Rutgers University, where she graduated, summa cum laude.
      After Rutgers, she received her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She also completed an internship, a residency and a fellowship in cardiology from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

      Dr. Okwuosa is a Diplomat on the American Board Internal Medicine and the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine.  She serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine and attending Cardiologist at Wayne State University School of Medicine.  Dr. Okwuosa is an attending Cardiologist at both DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital and DMC Harper University Hospital.

      Dr Okwuosa is well respected by her peers.  She has been invited to make many presentations.  She also has had a great deal of research published including chapters in Medical Books.

        Related DMC Services
        DMC Cardiovascular Institute 
        DMC Sinai Grace Hospital Cardiovascular Services

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