Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States. We now know that female-specific risk factors for cardiovascular disease are an important piece of our medical history. 

Erica Pivato, D.O., is a cardiologist with the Florence Wormald Heart & Vascular Institute at St. Elizabeth. She recently answered questions about these cardiovascular risks and symptoms that are unique to women.

Why is St. Elizabeth turning its attention to women’s heart health?

Cardiovascular disease is on the rise. Heart attacks and strokes remain the #1 cause of death for women and can have debilitating effects for those who survive. It’s time to address women’s heart health in a more comprehensive, personalized way. We have to make sure women aren’t just living longer but that we are living better. 

We’ll dive into the female-specific risk factors to educate our patients and the medical community on how better to detect cardiovascular disease. 

How is Heart Disease Different for Women?

We’ve all heard the typical symptoms of heart attack: gripping pain in the chest and arm. These certainly are symptoms of concern and can present in both men and women. However, women do not always have chest pain and may have more nonspecific symptoms that can be mistaken for benign issues. Some of these symptoms include shortness of breath and fatigue, and chest pain may or may not be present.

What are the unique risk factors for women?

Some female-specific risk factors are pregnancy-related complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, recurrent miscarriages, preterm birth and low birth weight. Additionally, PCOS, premature menopause, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are conditions that also put females at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease.

Why should women consider St. Elizabeth for their cardiovascular healthcare?

At St. Elizabeth, we all have a common goal to provide the best, most comprehensive care to our patients. St. Elizabeth Edgewood is one of an elite group of hospitals recognized as a regional and national leader in heart care, certified by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association as a Comprehensive Cardiac Center, which is reflected in our entire program. But we believe that great care goes beyond the latest treatments and technology. For us, it means listening to patients, treating them with compassion and making a meaningful difference in their lives.

What can women do to reduce their risk of heart disease or stroke?

Women are caretakers. The problem is that we’re so busy taking care of everyone else we forget about ourselves. My best advice is to put YOU higher on YOUR priority list. 

We, as women, can take active steps to build a lifestyle that reduces our cardiovascular risk. Eat a healthy diet that includes salmon, leafy greens and nuts. Move your body every day, but also take time to relax. 

It’s imperative to be aware of your own risk factors and discuss them with your doctor. Obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol are also on the rise, and so are more hidden ailments like microvascular disease, which affects smaller arteries of the heart. 

The good news is that women are great at knowing their bodies. So, if you have something going on that you know feels different, trust your instincts and discuss these symptoms with your doctor. 

Are you looking for help with your heart? For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit stelizabeth.com/heart or call 859-287-3045.

Life-Saving Care

In the middle of the night, Jan Koury awoke with horrific pain in her neck and head.

“It hurt so badly, like they were in a vice,” Koury says.

She checked her blood pressure – 200/110. She doesn’t normally have high blood pressure, so she headed to the emergency room at St. Elizabeth in Edgewood, Kentucky. 

She saw Dr. Pivato, who discovered that Koury was in atrial fibrillation with a 99% blockage in her artery. AFib causes the heart to beat erratically.

Koury says she had no risk factors except a family history of heart issues and has never had symptoms that she would expect, like chest pain. 

“If Dr. Pivato hadn’t taken care of me that night, I believe I would not be here right now,” Koury says. “She sat at my bedside and listened to me — really listened to my story — and ordered the appropriate tests. She’s tenacious and a true advocate for her patients.”

Koury is now returning to what she loves, like performing two shows a week at local nursing homes with the Dancing Grandmas on Tap. 

“We wear darling costumes,” Koury says. “We’re not the typical old lady dancers. We may look it in the face, but we still have great legs!”