SAN ANTONIO — February is American Heart Month, a time to bring attention to the signs and symptoms of heart disease.
During the pandemic, it's even more important for women to seek care for any symptoms. The reason: Those with heart disease are at a greater risk of complications from COVID-19, and many of the symptoms overlap.
"It has taken a long time for doctors and scientists to understand how common heart disease in women is. It is still the No.1 cause of death in both men and women, but in women sometimes it's not been as typically clear-cut," said Dawn Hui, a cardiac surgeon with University Health and an associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery with UT Health San Antonio.
She says women need to recognize the atypical signs of heart disease, which include pain in the lower chest or abdomen, shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, and swelling in the legs or ankles.
"We don't really know why symptoms are different, but they are," Hui said. "Ischemic heart disease, heart attacks (and) chest pain are still the most common presentation in women."
So what can women do to cut down on their risk of getting heart disease?
"Diet and exercise is very important," Hui said. "It can help prevent heart disease, and a lot of heart disease is preventable with changes to lifestyle."
It's also important for women to remember the biggest risk factors for heart disease, such high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, obesity, diabetes and smoking.
"If a woman is smoking, stopping or cutting back on smoking is very helpful," Hui added.
Knowing all of this, doctors are starting to find heart disease in women earlier than they used to.
"Thanks to initiatives such as the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women campaign and public educational segments such as this, younger women are being more successfully diagnosed and treated."
Hui also says stress is a big factor when it comes to heart disease; women should make sure to cut down on stress in ways other than drinking or smoking.
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