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February 2008 Issue

Ginger Conway, a nurse practitioner for the UC Heart & Vascular Center, talks about the importance of heart health with her patient, Patricia Ballard.
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More Teen Women Battling Heart Disease

By Katie Pence
Published February 2008

At the age of 18, most young women are embarking on adulthood without a care in the world—health included.

But experts at UC say that shouldn’t always be the case.

“Even young women may suffer from heart disease,” says Ginger Conway, a nurse practitioner with the UC Heart and Vascular Center. “I know an 18-year-old who suffered from a severe heart attack.

“You just never know who is going to be affected.”

UC experts urge women to watch for warning signs associated with heart disease, a condition that is becoming more common, especially among women.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), cardiovascular disease kills over 480,000 women a year—about one woman per minute.

Stephanie Dunlap, DO, associate professor in UC’s division of cardiovascular diseases and medical director of the Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program at University Hospital, says that heart disease is occurring more often in young people because of bad health habits.

She adds that symptoms in women often present themselves in uncommon ways, leading to misdiagnosis.

“More women have a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet accompanied with very little exercise,” Dunlap says. “Although we are more aware of heart disease and actively look for it, atypical cardiac symptoms are more likely to occur in females.”

These symptoms may include:

  • Back, shoulder or jaw pain   
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Cold sweats
  • Lightheadedness     

Conway adds that women of all ages should know their risk factors and keep their eyes open for signs of heart problems.

“Genetics contribute to heart disease,” she says. “Women should be aware of family history, including prevalence of diabetes and hypertension.”

She adds that women who are overweight or smoke are at an increased risk for heart disease and should take extra care to acknowledge warning signs.

“You can’t change genetics, but you can change lifestyle,” Conway says. “Even small amounts of weight loss and exercise will decrease the risk of heart disease significantly.

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