Meeting women’s unique needs for good heart health

Americans often think of heart disease as a man’s disease. That myth may contribute to women not getting the preventive care they need and the lifesaving treatment necessary when a heart attack or stroke occurs.

The Women’s Cardiovascular Health Clinic at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center is one of only a handful of clinics in the country devoted to women’s heart health. More than a third of the cardiology experts at Ohio State are women – covering nearly every specialty of heart and vascular care. Our team is led by nationally renowned women’s heart expert Martha Gulati, MD, director of Preventive Cardiology and Women’s Cardiovascular Health.

At Ohio State, we understand that the symptoms and complications of heart disease are different in women than in men, and our extensive experience in treating women’s heart disease means we have unmatched expertise in central Ohio. We address a breadth of conditions and situations that have special significance for women, including:

  • Cardiovascular complications during pregnancy that result in cardiovascular disease

  • Effects on the heart of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and pregnancy-related hypertension

  • Congenital heart disease and pregnancy. We have a specialist who counsels patients on the possible complications of becoming pregnant and who cares for patients with congenital heart disease through gestation and delivery.

  • Pulmonary hypertension, which disproportionately affects women. One of our physicians is devoted solely to treating women with pulmonary hypertension, a specialization found at only a handful of medical centers in the United States.

  • Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and polycystic ovarian disease, which predominantly affect women and often are accompanied by heart disease

  • Functional amenorrhea, which accelerates heart disease

  • Diabetes, which raises a woman’s risk of heart disease much more so than a man’s

  • Coronary microvascular disease, also known as small vessel disease or cardiac syndrome X, which affects women more frequently and is often under-diagnosed. This is a condition in which the small arteries in the heart have become narrowed.

  • Familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic disorder that results in early onset heart disease

Heart Health by the Numbers

Womens Heart Health Infographic

Risk Factors for Women

Heart disease often has no discernible symptoms, which is why it’s important for women to seek routine care. Risk factors like high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol levels may be detected as the result of a routine examination. Treating those conditions promptly can prevent future problems.

What Makes Heart Disease Different for Women?

Dr. Ruchika Husa, cardiologist at Ohio State’s Heart and Vascular Center, explains the different signs and symptoms women with heart disease may experience.

Heart Attack Signs and Women with Dr. Mehta

Ohio Sate cardiologist Dr. Laxmi Mehta explains heart attack symptoms and how women may have different symptoms and signs of a heart attack then men.

Women's Heart Health with Dr. Gulati

Martha Gulati, MD, cardiologist at Ohio State’s Heart and Vascular Center, discusses heart disease in women.

There are several key risk factors for heart disease and stroke:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Overweight and obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Family history
  • Medications/supplements

These risk factors can affect women differently than men. For example, smoking and diabetes are risk factors for both men and women, but they pose a greater risk for women than men. In addition, hormone replacement therapy for women may be associated with increased risk for heart disease, blood clots and strokes.

Female-specific risk factors for heart disease

Many steps to prevent heart disease in women are the same as for men. But women have some different risk factors that can be prevented, such as

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure, especially if combined with obesity

After age 55, women may have higher LDL cholesterol levels than men, which increase the risk of heart disease. It is important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly and to take steps to keep them at medically acceptable levels.

After menopause, women are also more likely to develop high blood pressure – a significant contributor to heart disease. The tendency toward high blood pressure is compounded if obesity is present.

Many women can reduce their LDL cholesterol level and blood pressure by making lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity and eating a heart healthy diet. If your cholesterol and blood pressure cannot be normalized with lifestyle changes, your healthcare provider may recommend medication to help.

It is important to take whatever steps you can to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in control because they are major contributors to heart disease. Your healthcare provider also may recommend other over-the-counter or prescription medications if you are at high risk for heart disease.

Warning signs of a heart attack in women

A heart attack is one serious condition that can result from heart disease. Like heart disease overall, the warning signs of a heart attack may differ in women than in men.

Men more commonly have the classic signs of a heart attack, including chest tightness, arm pain and shortness of breath.

A woman having a heart attack may experience the same symptoms as a man, but she may also experience:

  • Nausea or indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Back pain

Symptoms can occur suddenly or develop over hours, days or weeks.

Women often ignore these symptoms or attribute them to other factors. Women who have heart attacks are more likely to die from them than men because women are uninformed about the symptoms, ignore the symptoms or are reluctant to seek prompt medical attention.

Not seeking help when symptoms of a heart attack occur can lead to permanent damage or even death. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, it is important to call 911 or seek help immediately.

Women's heart facts

Heart disease is a very real health concern for women. Consider these facts:

  • Coronary artery disease, which causes heart attacks, is the number one killer of women in America
  • One in four women who die in the United States each year die from heart disease
  • Heart diseases cause almost twice as many deaths among women as all forms of cancer combined
  • More than one in three female adults in the United States has some form of cardiovascular disease. Females represent more than half of deaths from cardiovascular disease.
  • Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary artery disease had no previous symptoms


Our Services

Ohio State’s dedicated team of women’s heart experts offer a full breadth of services to prevent, diagnose and treat heart disease in women.

We provide a thorough risk assessment for all women who choose Ohio State for care. Our team will provide you with an individual care plan and will connect you with all the services you need, from lifestyle counseling to medications, surgery and cardiac rehabilitation.

Depending on your health, an expert will:

  • Evaluate your risk of developing heart disease
  • Assess and treat you for heart-related symptoms
  • Treat you for known heart disease conditions
  • Understand and take into account the sex-specific differences in your heart condition when personalizing a treatment plan for you

Research

Prevention is just the beginning of the care we provide at Ohio State. We also conduct research to understand women’s hearts better and to bring improvements to patients.

Ohio State women's heart health experts are currently pursuing research in:

  • Stress testing for women
  • Diagnostic testing in women for ischemic heart disease and coronary microvascular disease
  • Role of hormones in heart disease
  • Heart attack mortality rates in women versus men
  • Heart disease risk for breast cancer survivors

Ohio State is home to nationally renowned experts like, Martha Gulati, MD, director of Preventive Cardiology and Women’s Cardiovascular Health, who specialize in the research and prevention of heart disease in women.

Did you know that women comprise only 27 percent of participants in all heart-related research studies? Find out how you can become involved in a clinical trial at Ohio State.

Our Leaders

Our leaders

Martha Gulati, MD

Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC, FAHA

Director, Preventive Cardiology and Women's Cardiovascular Health

Dr. Gulati is an associate professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Ohio State as well as the Sarah Ross Soter Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health. Dr. Gulati is the principal or co-investigator on several studies examining women’s heart health, fitness and prevention. Dr. Gulati is a co-author of the 2007 guidelines of the American Heart Association for heart disease prevention in women. She has also published numerous articles in peer-reviewed publications and serves as a reviewer for several medical journals.

Laxmi Mehta, MD

Laxmi Mehta, MD

Clinical Director, Women's Cardiovascular Health Program

Dr. Mehta is the associate program director for education for Ohio State’s Center for Women’s Health and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Ohio State. She is the appointed governor of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), serves on the ACC's Women in Cardiology Council and has published peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Dr. Mehta also specializes in echocardiography, cardiovascular computed tomography and cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging.

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