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OMA blog
Feb. 12, 2021
Dr. Samantha Hill, Cardiac Surgeon

Galentine’s Day – Women’s Heart Health

Only eleven years ago, on Parks and Recreation, on February 13, characters gathered to celebrate the joys and love of female friendships—something that historically, we’ve struggled to recognize. Since then, women around the world have adopted Galantine’s day as an annual opportunity to celebrate and appreciate each other.

Galentine’s Day coincides with heart month.  As a heart surgeon, and President of the OMA, I’d suggest that recognizing women’s heart health, encouraging women to prioritize caring for themselves and their hearts, is the perfect way to celebrate and preserve the important relationships we have with the women in our lives.

Many people don’t realize that women’s heart-health differs from that of men.  Physicians and scientists know that women’s hearts and arteries are smaller and build up plaque in different ways.  We know women respond differently to various therapies than men, and that pregnancy, menopause, and hormonal changes can impact women’s heart health.  Women also take medications men do not, with varying effects on their hearts, and interactions with other medications. On top of that, social determinants of health that may affect cardiovascular health often disproportionately impact women. 

To date, however, the majority of clinical research on heart health is based on men. In order to provide better care for women’s hearts we need research to inform diagnosis and treatment.  We also need significantly more research about BIPOC women, an even more understudied cohort.

But there are things we do know that need to become common knowledge.  For example, heart attack and stroke symptoms may differ between men and women. Women may have the classic symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath and chest pressure, but are highly likely to experience less typical symptoms like back pain, stomach fullness and nausea.

It’s important that the public recognize these symptoms as potential indicators of a cardiac event to know to call for help. It’s equally important that women understand their unique cardiac risk factors, and how to mitigate them to stay healthy.   Finally, it’s important that society acknowledges the differences, and assigns equal value and resources to studying and protecting women’s health, including prioritizing self-care for a gender typically assigned the role of caring for others.

This Galentine’s day, I want to remind women of steps they can take to protect their hearts, like checking your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  These numbers help you understand your risk of a cardiac event and identify lifestyle changes you can implement to lower it.  Scheduling regular checkups, maintaining an active lifestyle, heart-healthy diets and working towards quitting smoking are also important, every-day, steps women can take to prioritize heart health.

I know folks are still worried about visiting their doctors and hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.  But if you are unwell or need medical advice, then your doctor and/or your hospital are the safest places to be.  Measures have been taken to keep you safe; avoiding or delaying care often results in more severe disease and worse outcomes. Your doctor can help you understand your unique risk factors and advise you how to maintain a healthy heart.  Doctors are here and ready to help you care for your heart.

This Galantine’s Day, let’s all show women in our lives we love them by acknowledging how special and unique their hearts are and empowering them to take care of their hearts.