Cardiologist stresses importance of women’s heart health

Feb 21, 2024

It’s important for women to be aware of the risk factors, signs and symptoms of heart disease.

(Nacogdoches, TX) – An estimated one in four female deaths is caused by heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. It’s important for women to be aware of the risk factors, signs and symptoms of heart disease.

“Women present with any combination of shortness of breath, tiredness, pain in neck, jaw, throat, upper back pain with or without activities,” said Interventional Cardiologist Gary Barkocy, D.O., FACC, FSCAI.

He explained that “heart disease" is an umbrella term which includes many different conditions:

  • Coronary artery disease: This is the most common type of heart disease in United States and may lead to what is known as “heart attack.” The heart is a pump and has its own blood supply which are called coronary arteries. Coronary artery disease is when these vessels are clogged with cholesterol plaque interfering with the flow of blood.
  • Arrhythmia: This is when electrical activities of heart is interfered with. Some examples are atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter which is characterized by irregular heartbeat.
  • Heart valve disease: Some of the most common forms of valve disease are mitral valve or aortic valve regurgitation, or what is called a leaky valve.
  • Congestive heart failure: This refers to when the muscles of the heart become weak or “pump failure.”

The traditional risk factors for heart disease are family history, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and obesity. These affect women and men equally, said Dr. Barkocy.

“Age is a risk factor for women – the older you are, the higher risk of heart disease. Women in general develop coronary artery disease 10 years later in life than men unless they have diabetes,” he said.

Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment. Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels.

Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, noted Dr. Barkocy.

“You cannot change aging or family history, so focus on what you can change. These steps include getting more exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week such as 30 minutes of moderate intensity walking per day),” he said.

Dr. Barkocy advises stay away from “white foods” like white sugar, flour, rice, bread, pasta (carbohydrate/starch). No soda, not even diet. Use portion control with your meals and eat more vegetables and greens. Stop smoking, reduce your stress level and limit your alcohol consumption. “You know yourself better than anyone else. If you feel something is wrong, do not ignore it and hope it would go away. Talk to your doctor,” said Dr. Barkocy.

For more information about cardiology care at Nacogdoches Medical Center, visit

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