Detecting Irregular Heartbeats

Detecting Irregular Heartbeats


The Next Generation
of Heart Tracking

Monitoring the rhythm of
your heart and alerting
you to changes

Smartphones are innovating how we diagnose irregular heartbeats. According to their press release this week, the results of the Apple Heart Study, Stanford Medicine verified that the Apple Watch can detect and report an “irregular heart rhythm (that) appears to be suggestive of atrial fibrillation (AFib).” AFib is quite common in the United States with more than 200,000 cases reported every year. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib. People with untreated atrial fibrillation may be at greater risk for stroke than people with normal heart rhythms. Because blood does not flow through the atria regularly, blood clots may form in the heart. If a blood clot escapes from the heart, it can travel through the bloodstream to the brain and cause a stroke.

Your heart’s rhythm

Dr. James O’Brien is board-certified in clinical cardiac electrophysiology. An electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) is a test that allows your doctor to see how well your heart is working. Dr. O’Brien describes his specialty as to an electrician, a specialist who investigates the wiring of the heart. “That’s where the heart is amazing. Our hearts are kind of like nerves, in the sense that they are electrically active; some of the nerves contract and that’s more muscular, some of them don’t, they conduct electricity. There’s an area called the sinus node that spontaneously fires and it’s kept in check by nerves. As we start to exercise or are active, our heart rates pick up. That area, the sinus node, is responsible for that change. The rest of the heart is inert. It sits there and waits for that sinus node to tell it what to do.”

Graphic of Heartbeat

When the heart beats, arteries expand as they fill with blood. When the heart relaxes, the arteries contract. It’s this rhythm between the heart and the arteries that powers your circulation system and keeps your blood flowing.

Dr. O’ Brien continued to explain the function of a heartbeat. “Some of the areas of the heart misbehave by themselves, and they try to run the show; those are atopic areas. People have, the term is PVC’s or premature ventricular beats, the most common reason for extra beats or skipped beats that leads for people to come in and say, ‘I feel palpitations or a sensation that my heart is beating abnormally.’ Many of those are due to PVC’s in an area of the lower chamber of the heart that depolarizes or fires by itself, competing with that normal rhythm. Many times when we sit down our heart rate slows down, and that area gets to discharge. If we get up to run the sinus rate is a little quicker, quieting down the PVC. This is why people say, ‘I don’t get them while I’m up and around, but I feel it more when I’m sitting.’ Some arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeat rhythms) are reentrant; those are different if you’ve had a heart attack or scare on your heart. As opposed to firing from a focus it re-enters, where the signal is spinning around, going from the healthy tissue, slowly through the scare and around again. That’s a reentrant arrhythmia, and those are much more serious.”

Before technology made it possible to see heart rhythms on a screen, doctors read EKG paper tapes. “We used to call them the squiggles,” he recalled. He explained the importance of understanding the difference between your heart rate and your heart’s rhythm. “When people say, ‘My heart rate was 72,’ well that’s good to know, it’s a significant number, 60 to 100 is normal at rest. But, what is the rhythm? Is it a regular rhythm? A top-bottom rhythm? Or is there atrial fibrillation, where the upper chamber is quivering, and the heart is not squeezing at all? This is when clots can form, and the electricity is being conducted to the bottom, you may have a heart rate of 72, and you may have AFib or an irregular rhythm. The rhythm of your heartbeat is what we are looking at on an EKG.”

Remote heart rate monitoring

It’s worth noting that the 2017 Apple Heart Study used older Apple Watch versions, not the Series 4 Watch that was unveiled this past fall, which has a built-in electrocardiogram (ECG) on top of the standard pulse sensor. Also, remote heart rate monitoring isn’t new technology. Dr. O’Brien pointed out that similar products have been on the market for the past 15 years. “AliveCore (the company who makes Kardia products) uses single lead EKG systems to detect the heart rate and the rhythm: regular, normal sinus or irregular, AFib.” The KardiaBand offers a replacement band for Apple Watches where users can conduct an “EKG anytime, anywhere” by placing their thumb on the band strap sensor for “a medical-grade EKG in just 30 seconds.” KardiaMobile pairs with most smartphones & tablets and uses a wireless strip sensor where users place their index and middle finger for “a medical-grade EKG in 30 seconds anywhere, anytime.” As Dr. O’Brien notes, these devices “create a PDF report on your phone which patients can send to us for review at the office.”

In September of 2018, Apple introduced the Apple Watch Series 4. This was the first smartwatch that can monitor your heart, and if it detects an irregular heart rhythm, notify you and record the episode. It instantly became the “hot-holiday” gift for heart patients. Apple continued its heart monitoring research with an announcement in January of this year that it had partnered with Johnson & Johnson to develop an app that can accelerate the diagnosis of a leading cause of stroke. Their study will start later this year, focused on US adults over 65 who wear the Apple Watch Series 4. “My strong suspicion is the study will be positive. For a device to give us information from an all-day sample is very helpful” stated Dr. O’Brien.

In a statement, Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s executive vice president and chief scientific officer, said: “the goal is to identify early on AFib and prevent stroke by combining the physical know-how from Apple.” Both companies believe that the future of heart detection and treatment will involve cloud based technology, using virtual storage spaces that allow users to safely share their information with a click of a button. The Capital Cardiology Associates Patient Portal is a secure portal that allows you, as a patient, access to medical records including medications, lab results, and medical history — online. If you are interested in signing up for the Patient Portal, click here to download the policy form to print out and return at your next visit.

The role of wearable trackers in your health monitoring

There is a difference in the quality of the EKG on an Apple Watch, KardiaBand, Fitbit, or any other wearable tracker versus the diagnostic ability of a 12-lead EKG. Dr. O’Brien summed up the difference as “a single lead EKG is a screening test. It’s appropriate for monitoring and detecting rhythm states. A 12-lead gives us a more accurate picture for problems and locating their origins, but that doesn’t diminish the value of a single lead EKG.”

While the device manufacturers continue to test their products for accuracy, innovate with more sharing and reporting advancements, and the size of the device gets smaller with every new release, medical professionals generally support wearable trackers in monitoring your health and daily life. “For a device to give us information from an all-day sample is very helpful,” said Dr. O’Brien. “Patients will have more ownership of their heart health, making them active participants. The watch may say they are irregular. After an exam, we’ll see they are single isolated beats, completely benign, but that’s fine. We’ll be able to say, ‘look you’re okay!’ We’ll also have patients who we haven’t seen before coming to the office who say, ‘my watch says I have abnormal beats.’ We can look and find that their blood pressure is at 150 and that will bring up a whole different preventative issue of high blood pressure.”

Written by: Michael Arce, Capital Cardiology Associates
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

Luke Perry Stroke

Luke Perry Stroke


Stroke is no longer
an “old age” risk

Adults as young as
40 are now at risk.

Here’s what you need
to ask your doctor.

Luke Perry’s death, just four days after FOX announced that it would be re-booting “Beverly Hills, 90210”, the TV show that made him 90’s icon, came as a surprise to fans who were hoping he would return as “Dylan McKay.” This role cemented Perry’s iconic image as the standard of cool for the generation who grew up after Jim Stark, the troublemaking teen played by James Dean in the epic 1955 film “Rebel Without A Cause.” The two characters not only shared similar backstories, dangerous loners who lived on the edge; the actors also shared a striking similarity in appearance.

The news report that The Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a “medical assistance” call at Perry’s home on Wednesday, February 27, dominated the headlines. At first, officials say Perry was talking to first responders and was fully conscious. This was just days after TV announcement; fans were shocked to learn that the star, at 52 years old was hospitalized due to a massive stroke. We were all saddened when the news broke the following Monday of his passing.

Redefining stroke

Stroke, as with many other forms of heart disease, is often thought of as an “old person’s” health concern. While there are more than 200,000 stroke cases in the US every year, making it the fifth leading cause of death in our country, the primary age affected is 60 years old and up. However, recent health trends have shown a growth in diagnosis with adults aged 41-60. “People can have strokes at any age,” says Maryellen King, Nurse Practitioner at Capital Cardiology Associates. Ultimately, if you have a concern about your risk of stroke, heart attack, or heart disease make an appointment with your doctor or primary care provider, today.

The traditional factors that put you at risk for stroke are lifestyle, diet, physical activity – which are controllable — tobacco use and smoking double the risk of stroke when compared to a nonsmoker. Smoking increases clot formation, thickens the blood, and increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries. Abusing alcohol and drugs (cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin) have been associated with an increased risk of stroke. The uncontrollable risk factors are your family history, age, race, gender, and prior heart health history.

There are also uncommon causes of stroke which are usually congenital (birth disorders) or rare vascular blood vessel diseases.

The recommendations for adults in their 40’s who are concerned about lowering their risk of stroke, heart attack or heart disease are:

• Eat a healthy diet, including reducing salt intake.
• Engage in regular physical activity and maintain a healthy weight.
• Manage stress.
• Avoid tobacco smoke.
• Take your medication as prescribed.
• Limit your alcohol consumption.

What is a stroke?

The National Stroke Association defines a stroke as “a brain attack.” Essentially, you have an instance where you’re losing blood flow to a part of the brain. “There are different types of stroke, hemorrhagic (bleeding in the brain), embolic (a blood clot that travels),” says King. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common; only 15 percent of all strokes are hemorrhagic, but they are responsible for about 40 percent of all stroke deaths. They can occur as a cerebral aneurysm, a congenital malformation of the arteries in the brain that can rupture. “There is no way to know if you have an aneurysm or not. If it ruptures, you can have bleeding on the brain, and people can die from that. They would experience sudden severe headache, the bleeding in the brain, patients will say the worst headache of their life. It’s not a warning sign, that’s a symptom,” stated King.

The other form of stroke is called an ischemic stroke. This can happen when a sticky, fatty material called “plaque” builds up in a blood vessel in your brain. Plaque slows your blood flow. It may cause your blood to clot. This can stop the flow of blood completely. This kind of stroke can also happen when a clot travels to your brain from another part of your body, even if you don’t have plaque buildup in your vessels. The most common cause of this type of stroke is A-Fib (atrial fibrillation) when your heart has an abnormal rhythm that produces the opportunity for a clot to form in the left side of the heart, dislodge and travels up and through to the brain.

A patent foramen ovale (above) is a hole in the heart that didn’t close the way it should after birth. The condition affects about 25% of Americans, but many do not know it.

The other type of embolic stroke would be a patent foramen ovale (PFO) or some different kind of congenital hole in the right and left sides of the heart. “The sides of your heart are supposed to be separate; blood comes from the right side of the heart is pushed to the lungs. It comes to the left side of the heart and gets pushed through the body. When there is a hole between the two sides, clots form and can travel from one side to the other,” said King. Most patients with a PFO do not have any symptoms. However, the condition may play a role in migraine headaches and it increases the risk of stroke, transient ischemic attack and heart attack.

Advances in testing

For patients who present stroke symptoms (Numbness or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on one side. Confusion or trouble understanding other people. Difficulty speaking. Trouble seeing with one or both eyes. Problems walking, staying balanced, or loss of coordination. Dizziness. Severe headaches that come for no reason.) there are testing procedures. “The only way to find the holes in the heart would be with an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart, to evaluate to see if a PFO has formed,” said King. Echo tests are performed by specially trained technicians at Capital Cardiology Associates. The test is painless, has no side effects, and usually takes an hour. “Using an echocardiogram (ECG) we can inject ‘fizz’ essentially, a trace amount of agitated saline that we call a ‘Bubble Study.’ These tiny bubbles can be seen on an ECG moving across the septum,” King explained. An ECG allows a physician to view the heart’s structure and check how the heart functions.

The other test available is the Transcranial Doppler (TCD), a non-invasive ultrasound method used to examine the blood circulation within the brain. A specially trained technician at Capital Cardiology Associates Imaging Suite performs this test to determine the amount of blood flow to specific areas of your brain. “The main reason that we started doing this is to detect a shunt or a hole in the heart,” shared Dr. Jeffrey Uzzilia of Capital Cardiology. “Patients that had a stroke, one of the reasons why they had a stroke that is not obvious at the time, is they can have a hole in their heart where a blood clot can form somewhere in the body and cross through that hole from the right side of the heart to the left. Once that blood clot is on the left side of the body it can travel anywhere in the body, including the brain and cause a stroke. Something like a PFO that everyone is born with, for most people it will close, for about 25% of people it will stay open. The TDP is the most accurate, sensitive test to detect that. It’s a very easy thing to see. There’s a good portion of patients, like Luke Perry, that you are shocked as to how young they are when they have a massive stroke,” said Dr. Uzzilia.

Written by: Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day

National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day

Patient Education

National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day

Identifying “the mystery killer”

February 22nd marks the third annual National Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day. As many as 11 million Americans have heart valve disease (HVD) — a potentially disabling and deadly disease. It’s known as the mystery killer and for good reason. Most patients mistake symptoms like fatigue or shortness of breath as exhaustion. According to a recent national survey, 3 out of 4 Americans know little to nothing about HVD. This year, Capital Cardiology Associates is proud to join the movement to raise awareness about heart valve disease and protect patient lives.

The big problem

More than 1 in 10 adults ages 75 and older have HVD. One of the awareness challenges with valve disease is that it’s a problem much bigger than one description. Dr. Donna Phelan has a special area of interest in echocardiography and non-invasive cardiology. She explained the different types and severities of valve disease. “HVD is a very general, broad term that encompasses any problems relating the four valves of the heart.” The heart has four valves, separating the various chambers of the heart, allowing it to pump blood. “When a person develops HVD, any of the four valves or multiple valves may be involved in the condition, and the valves are a lot like doors, they are supposed to open when they need to, to let the blood flow, they are supposed to close to keep the blood in the location needed.”

A heart with valve disease can experience stenosis when the valve becomes narrow. A narrowed or “stenotic” valve requires the heart to pump harder, which can strain the heart and reduce blood flow to the body. Another condition, called valvular insufficiency (or regurgitation, incompetence, “leaky valve”), takes place when the leaflets of the heart do not close properly, allowing blood to leak backward through the valve. This condition causes the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. “Or they can become thickened or calcified and not open as well as they should, restricting the blood flowing through them,” pointed out Dr. Phelan.

Identifying valve disease

Typically in the early stages of most types of HVD people may not have any symptoms. “The first step in identifying a person with heart valve disease is asking questions, building their family history, and obtaining their risk of developing heart valve disease,” stated Dr. Phelan. Patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes have an increased risk of heart valve disease. Common causes of valve disease include rheumatic fever, birth defects, degeneration over time and infection. “The second step is putting your stethoscope on their chest and listening for the murmurs that are often associated with valve disease. Then we move on to EKG’s, echocardiograms, and stress tests, which all to help us diagnose the type of valve disease and what needs to be done next.”

Getting an accurate diagnosis is critical, as Dr. Phelan noted the various conditions of heart valve disease could be linked together or they can be problematic on their own. “The electrical system can cause palpitations and arrhythmia. The plumbing of the heart, as most people think of as far as atherosclerosis [the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on your artery wall] as heart attacks are concerned, the muscle of the heart is supplied by that blood flow. And the valves of the heart are the reason why the heart can function as a muscle and pump the blood, and hold the blood when it needs to, and then generate each next beat to pump the blood out. Without those valves that wouldn’t be possible. They all work in sync; the heart is an amazing muscle.”

Living with heart valve disease

The good news: recovery statistics are encouraging for people who receive proper treatment. “Most often HVD is something people can live with for decades,” said Dr. Phelan. There are also multiple treatment options due depending on the severity of the disease stage. “Often, in the early diagnosis there is an observational period, there may not be a need for treatment. At certain levels of HVD, there are certain levels of treatment that we use medication, including adjusting blood pressure medications that help to reduce the effect of the strain of the blood pressure and the pumping functions of the heart on those valves, providing the time for the valves to rest for lack of a better way of describing it.”

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In some cases, open-heart or minimally invasive surgery will be necessary to repair, restore, or replace the heart valves. Your doctor will discuss with you whether heart valve repair or replacement is most appropriate for your condition. Most often, physicians recommend repair when possible as that option preserves the valve and heart function. At Capital Cardiology, our Valvular Clinic performs the TAVR procedure, a minimally invasive surgical procedure repairs the valve without removing the old, damaged valve. Instead, it wedges a replacement valve into the aortic valve’s place. This procedure is reserved for patients in their 70’s or 80’s and often have other medical conditions, for whom an open heart procedure poses an intermediate risk.

Lifestyle changes will also be a significant part of your treatment. Expect your doctor to advise modifications in physical activity, a healthy diet, stress management and avoiding tobacco use. You will also have regular visits with your cardiologist. “Follow-up appointments help keep tabs on the condition or valve problem before it gets too late or is not treatable any longer,” noted Dr. Phelan. Her biggest advice for patients with heart valve disease or those looking to reduce their risk of developing a condition, “keep an eye on your blood pressure.”

Written by: Michael Arce, Marketing Manager Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week


Born with a broken heart these babies now grow up to live a normal life

Why we should pay more attention to Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects affect approximately one in 100 births every year in the United States and are the most common type of congenital disability. Congenital heart defects occur while the heart is still forming, before birth. Heart defects differ from heart disease; in that, a heart defect is an abnormality that affects the normal function of the heart or major blood vessels. Heart defects are conditions that persons live with throughout their lives.

While hearing the news of a child being born with a heart defect is upsetting, today, according to Dr. Robert Benton, Chief of Cardiology at Samaritan Hospital, the outlook that the patient will be able to live a normal life is promising. “You have to look back on history, more than 50 years ago, the dawn of congenital heart disease surgery began. Today we have a population of people known as GUC’s – Grown-Up with Congenital Heart Disease. These are people that had some disconnection that was repaired and they grow up to live a normal life span.”

An estimated 1 million children and 1.4 million adults in the United States are living with a CHD in 2010. There are at least 18 distinct types of congenital heart defects that are recognized. In some cases, surgery makes it possible to correct issues that were once believed to be untreatable. “In the 1950s, congenital heart disease surgery began at Johns Hopkins,” shared Dr. Benton. “This is when ‘blue babies,’ patients who had difficulty getting blood into the pulmonary circulation, were born blue. It’s called Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF).” This congenital heart condition is a combination of defects that result in impaired pulmonary blood flow and reduced oxygen levels in the blood.

The first concealed procedures came from that era, small shunts that would connect parts of the heart. Over the next several decades with the advent of cardiopulmonary bypass surgery and significant research, doctors created surgical procedures that corrected these defects. “You could turn an abnormal heart to a normal heart. Or, you could have a procedure that gave you a normal-ish heart and live a long life; we don’t know yet because some of these procedures have only been around for 30 years,” said Dr. Benton.

February 7th – 14th is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week. Capital Cardiology Associates joins patients, families, physicians, health care workers, and volunteers across the country who advocate educating Americans of congenital heart defects, the most common and deadly type of congenital disability in the country. While the exact cause of most heart defects is not known, some factors impact a baby’s risk of being born with an error. “Genetics can be a factor,” said Dr. Benton. According to the American Heart Association, the chances that people with this genetic condition will pass it along to their child can be as high as 50 percent.

Dr. Benton explained the specific genetic condition for a very rare heart defect with less than 20,000 reported cases per year in the US. “For instance, Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), that is genetic. You can see that in the mother and the child. If you are a woman with TOF, your fetus is not going to have the regular sonogram to look at the development of organs, you are going to a specialist for an echocardiogram that looks at the heart of a little baby which is the size of a peanut; it takes a very skilled eye to look at that. These specialists can diagnose a congenital defect before birth. It’s important to know because the whole setup is going to be different at delivery. Some issues have to be addressed, immediately, at birth.”

Some heart defects are hard to detect before birth and may not be discovered or diagnosed until adolescence or adulthood. “One of the most common things we will discover is bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), an aortic valve that only has two leaflets, instead of three,” said Dr. Benton. BAV is present in about 5% of male births and 2.5% of female births. This defect can go undetected before birth, as most people with a bicuspid aortic valve aren’t affected by valve problems until they’re adults and, some may not be detected until they’re older adults. A doctor would detect this defect by listening to your heartbeat with a stethoscope. If the doctor hears a murmur, they may order additional imaging tests to examine the function, blood flow, and structure of your heart. Treatment may include medications, valve replacement surgery, or valve repair.

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Every parent hopes and prays for a healthy baby. While genetics is a significant factor in the risk of congenital heart defects, there are preventative steps pregnant mothers can take to lower their baby’s risk. A Swedish study found that obese pregnant women are twice as likely to have babies with severe congenital heart defects. Researchers discovered that the more overweight or obese women are, the higher the risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect. Obesity is generally considered the most important preventable risk factor for pregnancy complications.

Dr. Benton also cautioned women planning to become pregnant also limit toxins like alcohol, cigarette smoking, and exposure to certain medications. “If you have hypertension and you are considering getting pregnant, then you need to not be on those medicines when you get pregnant. Another medicine that can cause side effects during the early parts of pregnancy is Warfarin, Coumadin. If you have a mechanical valve and you’re a young woman who wants to get pregnant, you have to be ready for that and go on an injectable blood thinner called Heparin. The advice that most obstetricians would give most people would be to avoid toxins in your environment, avoid toxins you expose yourself to, and a eat healthy diet.”

Written by: Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

National Wear Red Day

National Wear Red Day


Wear Red for Women, Everyday

Heart disease is the number one killer of women and you can take steps to prevent it

National Wear Red Day is the first Friday in February when women are encouraged to wear red to raise awareness about heart disease, the number one killer of women. “This is something that is personally dear to my heart,” stated Dr. Heather Stahura. She recently joined Capital Cardiology Associates in the summer of 2018 and is on a mission to educate women on their risk of heart disease, including the steps they can take to prevent becoming a statistic. “It’s fascinating, I will talk to women and ask them what health issue they think is their biggest worry. Unanimously women will tell me breast cancer. Statistically, breast cancer will affect 1 out of 8 women but most women will do well, thanks to the research and advancements in treatment over the past few years. The staggering fact is 1 out of every three women will die of a cardiovascular disease issue over the span of their lives. That’s our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our friends. I think that is what the Go Red for Women (movement) is about informing us of our risk, starting that conversation with our doctor, and making the change to live our healthiest life.”

Heart disease includes more than a risk of heart attack or stroke

Part of educating women on their risk of heart disease requires breaking old stereotypes. “People constantly think of heart disease as being an older person issue, and it’s not,” said Dr. Stahura. A survey of more than 4,000 healthy individuals with an average age of 30 found that over 65% were unable to identify any of the six major cardiac risk factors. “In my short career, so far I have taken care of people who have had heart attacks in their 20’s and 30’s. These are people with high cholesterol in their 30’s, blood pressure issues starting in their teens.” The Women’s Heart Alliance 2014 survey reported that 45% of all women surveyed reported being unaware that cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death for women. “We need to break the myth that heart disease doesn’t happen to us because it does – it is – and we are failing to identify it,” said Dr. Stahura.

Recognizing heart attack or stroke

“In movies and TV shows you see this picture of an older gentleman clutching his chest, having the “typical” signs of chest pain,” explained Dr. Stahura. In reality, heart attack symptoms aren’t the same for everyone, especially women. In a Twitter post from December 9, 2018, a female nurse shared her story. “I want to warn women our heart attacks feel different. Last Sunday I had a heart attack. I had a 95% block in my left anterior descending artery. I’m alive because I called 911. I never had chest pain. It wasn’t what you read in pamphlets. I had it off & on for weeks.” She called 911 after being drenched in sweat, after she started vomiting.

Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain. Dr. Stahura cautions women to listen to their body, to be aware of sensations, feelings, or severe pain that persists for more than 15 minutes. “A lot of women that I care for started with jaw pain or abnormal neck pain which came out of nowhere. A lot of women will have numbness, tingling in their hands, maybe some upper back pain where they think they did too much activity the day before. Acid reflux, consistently having reflux that is not improved with over the counter medications. These women are having a heart attack when I see them.”

Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women (in comparison, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for men). Each year 55,000 more women have a stroke than men. “But when you ask the question, more people think it’s men. We need to talk more about the stroke risk for women,” proclaimed Dr. Stahura. Because in general women live longer than men, a stroke will have a more negative impact on their lives. The National Stroke Association states that more women will “live alone when they have a stroke, be more likely to live in a long term health care facility after a stroke, and have a worse recovery after stroke.”

Not only do women need to be aware of symptoms but they also need to respond faster during a cardiac emergency. A recent study conducted at the Triemli hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, found that women wait 37 minutes longer to seek treatment for heart attack compared to men. Dr. Stahura expressed this comes from not recognizing symptoms but also due to putting their family before their health needs. “I will ask women, ‘What caused you to wait, two days, three days, before seeking help?’ They tell me they have to care for their family. Women are tough. We have this innate sense of being caretakers, focusing on other’s needs before our own. Today, I want women to know, our health should be first too.”

Well Woman Visit

There is a reason National Wear Red Day falls at the beginning of American Heart Month. This month, health care professionals urge all women to discuss their heart health with their doctor. In the 2014 study by The Women’s Heart Alliance, approximately 71% of women did not mention heart health during a visit with a physician. “As a cardiologist, I will start by asking about your health history, what issues you have had in the past,” said Dr. Stahura. Expect a conversation on the risk factors that put you at an increased risk of heart disease. This would be blood pressure, high cholesterol, and if you’re a smoker. “I’ll also address your cancer history. Many patients that have had breast cancer, lymphomas, or leukemia and have had chemo or radiation, as well as therapies to the chest, that put them at risk of undiagnosed or undetected cardiovascular events.”

The goal of the Well Woman Visit is to asses your risk of heart disease and work with your physician on a plan live your best life. “Relationships are not built over one or two visits. I enjoy meeting with my patients and talking about their life. I want to hear about the areas of stress or changes in their life that could impact their overall health.”

Written by: Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.