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Release Date: 2/2/2014

Cardiologist shares advice for heart health

Christopher Allen, M.D.

Christopher Allen, M.D.

Chest pain. Shortness of breath. Pain in the left arm. You may be familiar with these symptoms of a heart attack, but you may be missing other warning signs, especially if you are a woman.

“Women are more likely than men to experience atypical symptoms,” said Christopher Allen, M.D., a cardiologist with St. Anthony’s Heart Specialty Associates. “I’ve seen cases where a woman has had jaw pain, ear pain and even tooth pain, and the cause was heart disease.”

Dr. Allen says those atypical symptoms - and the fact that some tests, like the treadmill stress test, are less accurate for women - can lead to heart disease not being recognized, which in turn delays treatment. He says that may be one reason among Americans older than 54 years, women are more likely to die from heart disease than men.

Another reason for the difference in survival rates is how men and women respond to different treatment. Men respond better than women to aggressive, invasive procedures, while women respond better to medical therapy.

“This is another reason it’s so important for women to catch any heart problems early, because they respond better to medication,” said Dr. Allen. He points out that while cholesterol-lowering statins slow plaque growth in the blood vessels of men, they actually shrink the plaque in the blood vessels of women. Women also fare better on aspirin therapy and beta blockers.

Heart disease kills about one in three Americans, at about the same rate for men and women, making it the leading cause of death.

Dr. Allen says there are things both men and women should do to improve their heart health:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, four days a week
  • Eat healthy foods like fish, fruits and nuts
  • Know your family’s heart health history
  • Control diabetes

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