The Froedtert & MCW health network offers a distinct advantage for women through its Women’s Heart Disease Program. Our experts created a program to address the unique aspects of heart disease in women. Our dedicated team of female board-certified cardiologists is the largest in eastern Wisconsin, and we’re passionate about helping women take care of their heart health.
Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women
Overall, the symptoms of heart disease in women are the same as those in men. Symptoms include, but are not limited to the following:
- Chest pain/pressure/discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Pain in the jaw, neck, back, shoulder and stomach
Women are more likely than men to experience some symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea and back or jaw pain.
Early warning signs of heart disease could be subtle like not being able to walk as far as usual or having shortness of breath or chest tightness when exerting yourself.
If you experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor. That's the key to diagnosing heart disease and catching it early. Your doctor will talk with you about appropriate testing, such as an ultrasound of your heart, a stress test or a CT scan.
Risk Factors and Evaluation
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the world. 80% of heart disease, however, is preventable. Effective disease prevention begins with understanding and managing your risks for heart disease. During your individualized cardiovascular risk assessment, your cardiologist will meet with you to discuss your health background. The risk factors for heart disease in women include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Tobacco use
- Family history of heart disease
Women who have had pregnancy complications, like high blood pressure or diabetes, are also at a higher risk for developing heart disease in the future.
Our Women’s Heart Disease Program allows you to see your doctor and pharmacist, plus get lab work all in one visit. We also have the most advanced noninvasive screening tools to test your heart’s function, including:
- Calcium scoring test — Takes a CT scan of your coronary arteries to look for plaque buildup.
- Nuclear stress test — Uses a small amount of radioactive tracer to create computer images and evaluate blood flow to the heart.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan — Uses a special dye with radioactive tracers to check for coronary artery disease or heart damage.
- Stress echocardiography — Determines how well your heart and blood vessels are working as you exercise on stationary equipment.
- Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) stress test — Uses radio waves and magnets to create pictures of organs and tissues.
- CT angiography test with fractional flow reserve (FFR) — Offers a non-invasive way of measuring blood flow through coronary arteries to evaluate for blockages in the arteries.
Treating Heart Disease in Women
Overall, heart disease treatment methods are the same for men and women, but there are some differences based on your symptoms or how you respond to treatment. To address this, we are doing research to learn more about the best ways to treat women’s heart disease.
As we formulate a plan for your heart health, our cardiologists may prescribe medication or lifestyle changes to prevent or stop the progress of heart disease. They consult with other experts as needed, including pharmacists, lipidologists (doctors who are cholesterol specialists), nurse practitioners and exercise physiologists. Prevention and treatment strategies will be customized for you, based on age and physical condition. These include lifestyle changes, as well as medical treatment.
- Dietary changes, including information on how to eat a heart-healthy diet
- Exercise options that fit your interests and are easy to make a regular habit
- Medication to control blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels
- Stress management techniques that improve the mind-body connection, like yoga and meditation
- Cardiac rehabilitation for those who have had a heart event or heart surgery
- Smoking cessation program
Because there’s more to your health than your heart, our cardiologists work closely with specialists across our health network to provide the highest level of care if you have heart-related issues due to pregnancy, breast cancer or other health concerns.
If you have a chronic disease such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure or diabetes, or you struggle with finding the right medication to control your heart condition, we provide ongoing care and management.
You’ll have full access to our academic medical center if you need a specialized diagnostic test or heart procedure. Our heart and vascular team includes electrophysiologists, vascular surgeons, interventional radiologists and cardiac surgeons working together to provide you with high-quality medical care that’s both personalized and patient-centered. We also offer advanced heart services, such as care for adult congenital heart disease and heart transplant.
By choosing the Froedtert & MCW network, you will have access to one of the top academic medical centers in the country. Benefits include access to cutting-edge imaging, the latest in medical techniques and technologies and access to clinical trials not available anywhere else in the region.
With convenient locations throughout southeastern Wisconsin, we offer heart care close to your home or work. Whether you are concerned about existing heart problems or are focused on prevention, our women’s heart specialists are dedicated to partnering with you for a lifetime to improve your heart health.
Managing Risk Factors of Heart Disease in Women
The cardiologists in our Women’s Heart Disease Program are highly attuned to heart symptoms and diseases more prevalent in women. As women themselves, they connect with what you are experiencing and work not only to relieve your symptoms, but also your anxiety and stress.
Conditions that impact women’s heart health include:
Stroke risk, which is greater in women than men, making it critical to identify risk factors such as family history and heart disease. If our risk calculator shows you are at high risk, our team may recommend a calcium scoring test for additional information, changes in diet and exercise or preventive medications.
Subtly different heart attack symptoms, beyond chest pain. Women are more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain. Our doctors are well aware that heart attack outcomes are worse for women age 45-55 than men of the same age. We’re attuned to these numbers, as well as heart attacks in women that result from causes other than blocked coronary arteries.
Cardiac syndrome X, a dysfunction in smaller blood vessels at the microvascular level is more common in women, but not readily detected with current imaging. Responsible for 60 percent of blood flow to the heart muscle, dysfunctional blood vessels can compromise blood flow and cause symptoms similar to angina (chest pain). As imaging tests such as cardiac MRI stress test and CT angiography FFR become more sensitive, our cardiologists are having a high degree of success in diagnosing and managing the syndrome with medications.
Anxiety and depression, which are more common in women, are significant contributors to heart attacks and heart disease. Our doctors closely watch and assess patients for symptoms and prescribe antidepressants or refer to behavioral health specialist as needed.
Menopause, which increases the risk of heart disease, usually with a rise in cholesterol levels post-menopause. Our team addresses this with a prevention plan that includes diet, exercise and weight control. Medication may be used if you have high cardiovascular risk.
Pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and congenital heart disease, can have an impact on your heart. Our cardiologists work closely with obstetricians to monitor heart health in women who have these conditions.
Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, receive special attention here at the Froedtert & MCW health network because of their potential connection to heart disease.
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), an under-diagnosed, inherited disorder that causes high cholesterol levels in young people and accelerates the progression of heart disease. Froedtert cardiologists are working to diagnose FH earlier in women (and men), since the condition, left untreated, leads to cardiovascular events 10 to 15 years before the normal population. They may recommend genetic testing and counseling for early identification and treatment.
Coronary artery tear, which occurs rarely, has symptoms similar to an acute heart attack. This most often affects young women, often postpartum, who don’t have traditional risk factors for heart disease. Our cardiologists can perform intravascular ultrasound to look at a tear in the artery wall, evaluate its severity and recommend treatment options including stenting or bypass surgery.
Breast cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapies and/or hormone therapies, affect the heart. We work closely with cancer specialists to ensure that the heart muscle isn’t weakened or enlarged. Our cardiologists can prescribe medicine to return the heart to normal, and we continue to follow patients for long-term effects of radiation exposure.
Meet Our Doctors
With the Froedtert & MCW health network, you’ll receive care from eastern Wisconsin’s largest team of female cardiologists. We are women passionate about helping you and other women take care of your heart health.
Visit the American Heart Association for more information on women’s heart health and ways to reduce your risk for heart disease.