Women's Heart Health Program | Heart & Vascular | Loyola Medicine

Women’s Heart Health Program

Overview and Facts about Women’s Heart Health

The women’s heart health program at Loyola Medicine addresses the unique cardiac needs of women throughout their lifetime. Many women may not know that heart disease symptoms are not the same for men and women, and do not recognize symptoms or delay seeking potentially life-saving treatment.

When they do seek treatment, women often receive less aggressive treatment than men. There are also health issues that affect cardiac health, such as pregnancy and hormone replacement, that are unique to women.

The program provides convenient access to all of Loyola’s diagnostic and treatment resources for heart disease, and is designed to help women reduce their chances of heart disease through a preventive approach, including state-of-the-art screening and testing.

For women who have already developed heart disease, we provide advanced subspecialty care from a team of women’s health experts.

Why Loyola?

The women’s heart health program provides the highest level of cardiac care by advancing research in the field and educating women and health care providers about the novel aspects of cardiovascular disease in women.

The program uses a multidisciplinary, comprehensive approach to heart care — that means you can see all the specialists you need under one roof, including cardiologists, nurse practitioners, neurologists, vascular surgeons, dietitians and a genetic counselor. Experts will help you navigate and schedule any follow-up appointments close to home to ensure consistent care.

What Conditions Do Women’s Heart Health Specialists Treat?

Heart disease is a broad term that describes a range of heart conditions. These conditions include:

  • Coronary artery disease: Narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. A common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina (also known as chest pain or pressure) — a temporary squeezing sensation in the chest, palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea and sweating caused by the poor blood supply to the heart.
  • Heart attack: When the blood supply to the heart muscle is blocked for an extended period of time. Unlike men, women can have a heart attack without experiencing gripping chest pain. Symptoms last more than a few minutes and may include: uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain in the chest; pain in one or both arms, the back, neck or jaw; shortness of breath; nausea, dizziness, sweating or lightheadedness. See the table below for more information about symptoms women are more likely to experience.
  • Heart failure: When the heart has difficulty pumping blood to the rest of the body. Signs and symptoms can include fatigue, swelling of feet and ankles, shortness of breath and fluid backing up into the lungs.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension): High blood pressure seldom causes any symptoms, but unexplained headaches or shortness of breath can be a sign of hypertension. Some may also experience fatigue, vision problems or chest pain.
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia): Common signs and symptoms can include fast or slow heartbeat, skipping heartbeats, shortness of breath, sweating or dizziness.
  • Valve disease: Caused by one or more heart valves not working properly. Signs and symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling of ankles or feet, irregular heartbeat, fainting or dizziness.

What a Heart Attack Feels Like:

Common symptoms experienced by both women and men:

Common symptoms experienced by women:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (women experience less of this compared to men)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Arm, neck, jaw or back pain
  • Cold sweat
  • Unusual or extreme tiredness
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Upper body discomfort or indigestion (back pain or jaw pain without any chest pain or pressure)
  • Palpitations
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sudden anxiety or confusion

Heart Health Risk Assessment

New patients at Loyola’s women’s heart health program will complete a questionnaire prior to their first appointment to pinpoint individual risk factors for heart disease and other diseases common to women. This personalized risk assessment report becomes the basis for each patient's unique heart disease prevention and treatment plan.

After reviewing the patient's medical history, risk assessment report and conducting a complete cardiac exam, an expert women’s heart disease cardiologist formulates an individualized plan.

Additional testing may be indicated and may include:

  • Arrhythmia diagnosis
  • Cardiovascular Intervention Center
  • Cardio-oncology
  • Carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) scan
  • Coronary angiography
  • Coronary calcium scan
  • Coronary reactivity test
  • CT angiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Electrophysiology testing
  • Exercise stress testing
  • External counter pulsation treatment
  • Intravascular ultrasound (IVUS)
  • Pacing echocardiography
  • Peripartum and postpartum heart health
  • Rest and stress echocardiogram
  • Heart attack prevention
  • Specialty blood testing for inherited disorders
  • Specialty invasive testing including acetylcholine coronary endothelial function and adenosine cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Stress and dobutamine echocardiology
  • Stress radionuclide perfusion or stress test
  • Stroke prevention
  • Tilt table testing
  • Transesophageal echocardiography
  • Women's hormone and menopause testing

How Are Women's Heart Conditions Treated?

There are various treatment options for women’s heart disease, depending on the diagnosis, including lifestyle changes, medications, surgery and/or medical procedures.

Prevention and stabilization of heart disease includes lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Know your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and find out if you have or are at risk for diabetes.
  • Daily aerobic exercise: Example: dedicated brisk walking for 30-60min/day
  • Dietary choices: Eat more plant-based and less processed foods.
  • Lose weight if needed.
  • Quit smoking or don't start.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Sleep 7-8 hours every night.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day or less.

In addition to lifestyle modifications, you many need:

  • Medications to:
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Lower cholesterol levels
    • Help the heart work better in heart failure
    • Manage symptoms including chest pain (angina)
    • Prevent blood clots
  • Coronary angioplasty and stenting (also called percutaneous coronary intervention). This procedure opens narrowed or blocked blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. A procedure in which a stent, which is a small, metal mesh tube is placed and expands inside a coronary artery to keep it open and allow blood to flow to your heart muscle.
  • Heart surgery or coronary bypass grafting (CABG)
  • Cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehab is a 12-week program that includes a mix of supervised exercise, nutrition counseling, stress management, assistance to quit smoking and education about the disease process, including how you can better take control of your health and improve outcomes.
  • Valve repair or replacement
  • Cardioversion: A procedure to help restore a normal heart rhythm in people with irregular heartbeats.
  • Pacemaker: An implanted device that uses electrical pulses to help the heart beat normally.

How Does Heart Disease Affect Women?

It is crucial to know how heart disease affects women so there is a better chance to beat it. Despite an increase in awareness over the past decade, only about half of women recognize that heart disease is their number one killer. The good news is 80% of heart disease can be prevented through lifestyle change.

Know the facts:

  • Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke, claims the life of one woman about every 80 seconds.
  • Two out of every three women have at least one traditional risk factor for heart disease.
  • Heart disease is not only a man’s disease!
    • More women die of coronary artery disease than men.
    • Fewer women will survive a first heart attack.
    • Women not only experience higher mortality rates when compared to men, they also have poorer outcomes.
  • Women are less likely to be treated for heart disease, they are less likely to be prescribed guideline directed medical therapy and are less likely to be treated in a timely fashion.
  • Women are less likely to receive statins for dyslipidemia.
  • Women are less likely to receive anticoagulation in atrial fibrillation to prevent stroke.
  • Heart disease, not breast cancer, is the #1 killer of women: 1 in 3 women will develop heart disease at some point in their lifetime compared with 1 in 8 who will get breast cancer.
  • Heart disease affects women of all ages. For younger women, the combination of birth control pills and smoking boosts heart disease risks by 20%.

Heart disease risk factors that affect both women and men:

  • Smoking
  • Having high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes
  • Not exercising or sitting for long periods of time
  • Eating a diet high in salt, saturated fats, cholesterol and added sugars
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • Older age

Heart disease risk factors unique to women:

  • Age of menstruating, before 10 or after 17 years of age, can increase risk.
  • Menopause: Heart disease increases in women around or after menopause.
  • Pregnancy-related conditions:
    • Gestational hypertension or preeclampsia: Elevation in blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease in women.
    • Postpartum heart failure
    • Gestational diabetes
    • Preterm delivery (before 37 weeks of gestation).
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Conditions related to heart disease that are more common in women:

  • Microvascular heart disease: A disease that affects the smaller arteries supplying the heart muscle, which account for 60% of the blood supply to the heart.
  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD)
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus (SLE) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Stress induced heart failure (also known as broken heart syndrome or Takotsubo Syndrome) is caused by a strong emotional response
  • Breast cancer: Treatment with chemotherapy and radiation can cause heart disease during treatment, immediately after or years later.