NAPLES, Fla. — February is American Heart Month, and heart disease is known to be the leading cause of death in both men and women. A Non-Invasive Cardiologist at the NCH Heart Institute said the signs of heart disease and a heart attack can be different for each gender, and also depend on your family history and medical history.
Dr. Shona Velamakanni said with heart disease, it's important to first know your family history.
"We want to know our numbers, what our blood pressure is, our cholesterol is, what our blood sugar is. Diabetes or even having pre-diabetes can be a big risk factor for accelerated heart disease," she said.
When it comes to heart attacks, Dr. Velamakanni said the signs can be different in men and women.
"Of course, women can have traditional chest discomfort or shortness of breath. But they can also have different kinds of symptoms," she said. "Sometimes they have numbness and tingling in their hands with exertion, or headaches even I've seen present as heart attacks. So anything that feels different, flu-like symptoms, something that's just not normal for how you normally feel, you should definitely listen to that inner voice and get it checked out with your doctor."
Dr. Velamakanni said she understands why some women may be hesitant to believe they're having a heart attack if they're experiencing the less common symptoms like these, but said it's important to be proactive.
"I always tell patients it's better to listen to those symptoms and get it checked out, rather than just dismiss them. Because if you just miss it, it might be too late. So if something is not right and you feel off, you shouldn't let it go. You should definitely get it checked out," she said.
She also recommends patients who are concerned about heart disease get a Coronary Artery Calcium Score. It's on a CT scanner, takes just a few minutes, and detects the amount of calcium in the arteries of the heart. Calcium is a marker for plaque that can block the arteries and cause a heart attack.