Women's Heart Care
Although it's often considered a "man's disease," heart disease is a serious threat to women's health. More women are affected by heart disease than all cancers combined, and after menopause, women are actually more likely to have heart attacks than men of the same age.
The Adelaide C. Ward Women's Heart Health Center at The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City focuses exclusively on the needs of female patients. Made possible by a generous gift from the Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward Foundation, our women's heart health center is dedicated to preventing and treating cardiovascular disease in women.
From preventative care to diagnosis and treatment, we provide personalized access to heart care services and in-depth educational opportunities. Our physicians recognize the unique and subtle signs of heart disease in women and support you in understanding and managing your risk factors.
About heart disease in women
Research shows that women experience different symptoms, causes and outcomes of heart disease than men. For example, women tend to develop plaque along the full length of the blood vessels, meaning they may have disease along the small arteries more often than men. Women also tend to develop heart disease later in life than men, with the risk increasing after menopause.
Hormones may be partly to blame. Premenopausal women make up one of the fastest growing groups of people with heart attacks. Before menopause, women's natural estrogen may help protect them from heart disease because estrogen increases good cholesterol levels and may help decrease bad cholesterol. These physiological differences are why women require different care than men for heart disease.
Heart disease symptoms and risks in women
Women and men may have different risk factors and symptoms for heart disease. The most common risk factors for heart disease in women are:
- Age 55 and older
- Chronic inflammatory disease, such as lupus
- Chronic kidney disease
- Diabetes/gestational diabetes
- High cholesterol
- Family history of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Preeclampsia or eclampsia
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Stress and depression
- Tobacco use
The symptoms of heart attack may also be different for women. In addition to chest pain, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest, women may also experience:
- Cold sweat
- Nausea or indigestion
- Pressure between the shoulder blades
- Rapid heartbeat
- Unexplained anxiety, weakness or extreme fatigue
Not all of these signs occur in every heart attack. Sometimes they go away and return. If you experience these symptoms, and they are steady and frequent, you may be having a heart attack. Call 911 immediately.
Heart disease tests for women
Once you are experiencing symptoms, certain tests are more reliable than others in diagnosing heart disease. An exercise stress test alone is not as accurate, for example. Women may have small differences in the electrical circuitry powering their hearts. We advise a stress echo as a better first-line test for women with some symptoms and risk factors.
You may require other special tests as well. For example, radiation to the chest increases the risk of breast cancer in women. So we offer a special chest CT scan to look at the coronary arteries with very low radiation. Pregnancy can also influence which tests are used.
We offer a comprehensive cardiac care program devoted to women. Our all-inclusive approach balances a focus on risk reduction with a commitment to providing the latest in diagnostic imaging, treatment and rehabilitation for women who need care.
Why choose us for women's heart care?
Our women's heart health center provides you with:
- A team of clinicians who focuses only on women's heart care
- A menopause clinic, in which specialists in cardiology, OB-GYN, oncology and pulmonology collaborate to provide top-quality care for postmenopausal patients
Our cardiovascular team works closely with other specialists across the health system to integrate women's healthcare services effectively. Together, we're able to provide for the multiple health concerns of women, including obstetrics and gynecology.
A center dedicated to women's heart disease is so important, because women can have very different symptoms than men do. I had at least two episodes that were indicators my heart wasn't working as it should, but I didn't recognize the symptoms. – Adelaide C. WardPhilanthropist
What to expect
At the Adelaide C. Ward Women's Heart Health Center, you'll have access to health assessments, dietary counseling, educational programs, support groups and additional resources to prevent and reduce cardiovascular disease. Your heart health team can help you become aware of your risks and how to lower or manage them. They also provide care tailored to your specific needs.
You will meet with a cardiologist specializing in women's heart health. He or she may recommend a number of tests to pinpoint what type of heart disease is present. The University of Kansas Health System is one of only a few hospitals in the region that offers specialized diagnostic testing for microvascular angina – a type of heart disease that primarily affects women. Your cardiologist will determine what type of test(s) will be most appropriate.
Once your tests are evaluated, you and your cardiologist will discuss your condition and treatment options. Additional educational materials and resources are available to improve your overall heart health and set you up for a successful recovery.
Kansas City civic leader and philanthropist Adelaide C. Ward only discovered she had heart disease after scheduling a heart health evaluation. Because of the excellent care she received, she gave back to The University of Kansas Health System with a generous gift.
Denise Bollin was enjoying a casual lunch when she suddenly felt a burning pain in her throat and chest. Within hours, she was undergoing a lifesaving procedure after learning that her aorta, the heart's main artery, was tearing apart.