News Release: Emory Healthcare, School of Medicine

May 1,  2009

Women and Heart Disease: A Serious Matter

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), also known as heart disease, is the number one reason for women’s deaths in the United States. It is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. However, many women do not realize the seriousness of this disease. Many more do not recognize the symptoms of heart disease in women.

Emory University Hospital Midtown (EUHM) hosted a seminar focusing on women and heart disease with three leading cardiologists in the field. Actress and comedian Tracey Conway, who experienced sudden cardiac arrest at age 38, told her compelling story of surviving a heart attack.

"The number of women developing cardiovascular disease is on the rise, with nearly 37 percent of all female deaths in America attributed to CVD," says Michele Voeltz, MD, assistant professor of medicine, division of cardiology, Emory University School of Medicine. "Our goal is to raise awareness about heart disease in women, let women know about the resources available to them and encourage them to take care of themselves."

Voeltz sees mostly female patients at her practice at Emory University Hospital Midtown.

According to the American Heart Association, 23 percent of women ages 40 and older will die within one year after a heart attack. This is compared to 18 percent of men who had a heart attack during the same time frame. More women than men die of stroke. Despite these statistics, misperceptions still exist that CVD is not a serious problem for women.

"Women should be aware of their risk factors for heart disease, knowing what they can and cannot control about their health," says Sheila Robinson, MD, private practice cardiologist at Emory University Hospital Midtown. "Risk factors that cannot be controlled are age, family history and previous heart attack or stroke. Risk factors that can be modified or controlled by medications are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity and smoking."

The more risk factors a woman has, the greater her risk of having a heart attack or stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

"One in every three women will develop heart disease, and in particular, coronary disease in her lifetime, so it's important that we consider lifetime risks and not just short term risks when we try to prevent coronary disease in women," says Nanette K. Wenger, professor of medicine in the division of cardiology, Emory University School of Medicine.

Wenger helped write the 2007 Guidelines for Preventing Cardiovascular Disease in Women, and was recently recognized by the American College of Cardiology with its highest honor of Master.

Some of the most common symptoms of a heart attack in women include: chest pain or discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Emory experts say if you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 or go to a hospital immediately.

Because women are often the primary caregivers in the family, taking care of the children, the spouse, older family members and running the household, women often forget to take care of themselves. Staying healthy and listening to your body could help in saving your life and your heart from heart disease.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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