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Take Heart: Three Important Steps for Heart Health and Why Minority Women are at Greatest Risk

For years we’ve been focused on improving heart health overall. For men and women. Yet cardiovascular disease is still the number one cause of death among women here in the U.S. and women are still at high risk – minority women even more so. Racial and ethnic minority populations confront more barriers to a heart disease diagnosis and care, receive lower quality treatment, and experience worse health outcomes than their white counterparts.


“There are a number of reasons,” Annabelle S. Volgman, MD of Rush University Medical Center says. “So I’m challenging all women with a three-pronged approach to ensuring their heart health.”

Step 1: Get Educated.

Don’t ignore signs and symptoms of potential heart disease. Women often manifest symptoms of heart disease differently than men. Learn the signs, pay attention and see a doctor immediately if you feel any of them such as:

~ chest pain or discomfort

~ shortness of breath

~ generalized weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness

~ nausea with or without vomiting

~ heartburn, indigestion or abdominal discomfort

~ tightness or pressure in the throat, jaw, shoulder, abdomen, back or arm

~ awareness of heartbeat (palpitations)

~ a burning sensation in the upper body

Annabelle S. Volgman, MD of Rush University Medical Center says “We know there are many competing priorities in our days and some obstacles to overcome if you don’t have insurance or easy access to a doctor. While these can be difficult to overcome I urge you to put your health first and make seeing a doctor a priority if you ever experience these symptoms. It can save your life.”

Step 2: Get Heart Healthy.

You hear this all the time and for many things. It is important here too. Eat right, with lots of fruits and vegetables and a reduced focus on meat, and exercise regularly. This is really important for heart health.

Step 3: Get Tested.

There are many tests available and they all have their uses. Since heart disease is harder to diagnose in women they often undergo multiple and sometimes unnecessary repeat tests exposing them to additional risks. Women should also be aware of risks associated with each test and talk with their doctors about how to approach their testing pathway.

These risks include things such as radiation, some with risks associated with surgery. For instance, a cardiac stress test exposes a person to the equivalent of 39 mammograms or approximately 13.6 years’ worth of natural radiation. It’s important to know as women’s breast tissue is sensitive to radiation.

For those experiencing non-urgent symptoms, there is a simple sex-specific blood test called Corus CAD, which is especially beneficial for women, that can help doctors rule out obstructive coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease. It is a simple blood test, that can be done in a doctor’s office, and is

the only test of its kind that takes cardiovascular differences between men and women into account. To learn more about coronary artery disease and available tests in particular, visit


Annabelle Santos Volgman, MD FACC FAHA   McMullan-Eybel Chair for Excellence in Clinical Cardiology Professor of Medicine, Rush College of Medicine Medical Director, Rush Heart Center for Women

SheVille Team

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