Last updated: March 16. 2013 10:04PM - 112 Views
TOM CORWIN, The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

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It began for Nellie Hyacinth Davis with a cough.

The Augusta Chronicle

I had this terrible cough, said Davis, 79. But I didn't get no tightness or nothing where I could say it's my heart.

Barely able to breathe, she eventually ended up at Georgia Regents Medical Center, and finally doctors turned up blockages in her coronary arteries that resulted in two stents being placed to keep those blood vessels open.

Everybody asked me in the hospital if I had pain, Davis said. And I never had pain in my chest.

That is not unusual. Women with heart disease or even heart attacks often have different symptoms than men and even different disease than men, which often means taking a different approach, physicians said.

The American Heart Association designated Friday as National Wear Red Day to help promote awareness of heart disease in women, which is the No. 1 killer of women. Once thought of as a man's disease, the message that it isn't has gotten through in recent years, said Dr. Sheldon Litwin, the chief of cardiology at Georgia Regents University.

There's no question that today most people do know that this is a women's disease and are much more aware of it, he said. It used to be, if a woman came in with chest pain, it was assumed that it was not their heart and they would do other testing. Today, I really don't think that's the case anywhere. There's no doubt that the public education and awareness has changed.

Part of that is recognizing women might have different symptoms and that even the disease itself might be different. For years it was thought that women did not get invasive procedures as often as men due to bias. But one large study looked at 1,000 women who had abnormal readings from a stress test and were then given catheterizations and surprisingly 70 percent did not have the significant obstruction in the artery that might have been found in a male patient, Litwin said. Those women would probably not benefit from the standard treatment of catheterization and then a stent to keep the artery open but might be better served by addressing some of the underlying causes, such as obesity, sleep apnea or getting diabetes under control, he said.

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