Corona Regional Medical Center Health News
Summer 2008


 We Have Heart!
 Is It a Heart Attack?
 Director Brings Experience, Insight
to New Cardiac
Services Program
 Risk for Cardiovascular Disease Increases
with Age
 Fellas, Feeling Fine?
 "CRMC Saved My Life!"
 Ladies, Get the Facts
on Heart Disease
 Calendar of Events
 Need a Doctor?
 Past Issues

 Corona Regional Medical Center Health News

Corona Regional Medical Center Health News

Get the Facts on Heart Disease

Photo of a woman gardening
Half a million American women die each year from heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular events. But ask most women what their greatest health threat is and their answers may surprise you.

"Most women think that breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women," says Michael del Rio, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon on the medical staff at Corona Regional Medical Center. "That's because breast cancer gets more public awareness. Cardiovascular disease actually is the number one killer of women."

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), one in 2.5 women die of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular factors each year, compared to one in 30 who die of breast cancer. In fact, the combination of deaths from lung and breast cancer does not total the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease. And while heart disease and stroke have traditionally been thought of as "men's conditions," more women die from cardiovascular disease than men.

Increased Risk
Women are at an increased risk of dying from cardiac events for many reasons. First, they frequently are the primary caretakers of families and put themselves last on the list for medical attention. Also, men and women often experience different symptoms of a heart attack -- and women are more likely to experience the less common symptoms, which also are more difficult to recognize. And biological factors inherent to women contribute to early mortality.

"Women's hearts and arteries are typically smaller than men's, and smaller coronary arteries make it more difficult for stent implantation or bypass surgery to be successful," Dr. del Rio explains. "Outcomes are usually better in people with larger arteries."

Additionally, he says, as women age, the heart-protective benefit of estrogen declines. When going through menopause, the body stops producing estrogen. This makes women more susceptible to cardiovascular risk factors.

Photo of Michael del Rio, MD
Michael del Rio, MD
Fewer Recognized Symptoms
Men and women face the same risk factors for cardiovascular disease: a family history of the disease, smoking, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol levels, obesity, diabetes and stress. While these dangers pose hazards to both men and women, the way in which the disease presents itself in the genders is different.

Men's heart attack symptoms are usually sudden: marked chest pain (angina) radiating to the shoulders, neck or arms. This often is accompanied by shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat (tachycardia).

Initially, women's symptoms are specific, and like men's, the most common symptom is chest discomfort, Dr. del Rio says. But women are more likely to experience symptoms that are more nondescript, such as chronic breathlessness, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

"If a woman has chest pain, she should never ignore it," Dr. del Rio advises. "She may need a diagnostic evaluation with a baseline electrocardiogram and stress test. If we find signs of cardiovascular disease, more tests may be needed."

The AHA recommends that beginning at age 20 women get screened for cardiovascular risk factors every two years.

Dr. del Rio is a cardiothoracic surgeon who has been in practice for 11 years. Before moving to the Corona area, he was an attending heart surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center. Dr. del Rio attended Cornell University Medical School and completed his residency training for cardiothoracic surgery at the Medical College of Virginia. He also is specially trained in pediatric heart surgery.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. del Rio, please call our Physician Referral Service at 1-800-882-4362.

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Corona Regional Medical Center Health News