By Jann Wiswall

Did you know heart disease is the number one health risk among women? And did you know that heart attack symptoms often differ between men and women?

According to Dr. Thomas P. Smith, cardiologist with Catholic Health and the Bertrand Chaffee Hospital’s Heart Center, researchers and physicians over the past decade have been focusing on how heart disease presents itself differently in men and women. While both men and women may experience crushing pain in their chests, women often have much more subtle symptoms.

For example, some women experience unusual shortness of breath or extreme perspiration a few days or even weeks before having a heart attack. Others have irregular back or jaw pain. Stomach flu-like symptoms often are reported days or weeks before a heart attack. Because these can be attributed to a bug or stress or a pulled muscle, women frequently ignore the symptoms and worry about caring for everyone else around them.

As a result, Dr. Smith said, “Women often come to us with more advanced heart disease. While they develop disease at the same rates as men, women actually die from heart disease at higher rates.”

Consider these sobering statistics from the American Heart Association:

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined.

Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.

An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease.

Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.

Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease.

While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.

Only 1 in 5 American women believe that heart disease is her greatest health threat.

Women comprise only 24 percent of participants in all heart-related studies.

To help area women learn more about their heart health and recognize the warning signs of heart disease, Catholic Health is sponsoring a free dinner program entitled, “Her Heart: Understanding Women’s Cardiac and Vascular Health,” on Thursday, Oct. 24 from 5:30–7:30 p.m. at the Springville Fire Hall at 405 W. Main St. in Springville.

During the program, Dr. Smith and Henry M. Meltser, MD, a cardiologist with Catholic Health and the Cardiology Group of WNY, will present important information on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heart and vascular disease in women, as well as how to recognize the various warning signs.

Dr. Smith said he will focus on three topics during the meeting. First is the importance of “educating yourself about the risks of heart disease and what you can do to prevent it.” Next, he’ll review how to “recognize the symptoms of heart disease in women.” And finally, he will discuss how heart disease can be treated.

“There is so much we can do about heart disease with today’s medicines and technologies,” he said, especially when the disease or risk factors for disease are caught early.

Area women are invited to enjoy a complimentary dinner while spending an informative evening learning how to prevent heart disease or better manage an existing heart condition. Seating is limited and reservations are required by calling Catholic Health’s HealthConnection at (716) 447-6205.