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With more than 300,000 women each year losing their lives to heart disease, the need to highlight risk factors and warning signs is paramount. Responsible for nearly 1 in 5 female deaths across the United States annually, this disease impacts women of all ethnic backgrounds nearly equally.

To address this issue and in recognition of American Heart Month, four leading Catholic Health female cardiologists are sharing their expertise on how heart disease affects women differently than men. Our experts highlight the symptoms, risk factors and steps you can take to reduce the chances of a heart attack. Additionally, each physician offers a personal tip on what she does to keep her heart healthy.

Dr. Avni Thakore, President of the Catholic Health Physician Partners Medical Group

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States but often goes undiagnosed. While there has been an effort to increase awareness, only about half of women know that heart disease is their gender’s number one killer. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol—sometimes known as “bad cholesterol”—smoking and family history. Women need to be evaluated early by a physician if they have any cardiac risk factors.

I try to get some exercise each day. Even if it’s only for a small amount of time. Physical activity can boost levels of good cholesterol, help with weight loss and reduce stress, tension and anxiety. Women are encouraged to perform 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening weekly. But even as little as 10 minutes a day has been shown to deliver positive health benefits over time.

Dr. Rita Jermyn, Director of Catholic Health’s St. Francis Heart Center’s Center for Advanced Cardiac Therapeutics

Women can reduce their risk of heart disease through lifestyle modification namely, diet and exercise. Following a whole food plant-based diet can lower your risk of heart disease by 52%. Choose complex carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index and that are high in soluble fiber. Also, eliminate sugary beverages, alcohol, and consume plenty of water. When exercising, I recommend at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular training 3 times a week alternating with strength training.

For my heart, I do either strength training or aerobic activity for 50 minutes. I also follow a strictly plant-based diet.

Dr. Louise Spadaro, Catholic Health Cardiologist

There are several risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high triglycerides, diabetes, early menopause, smoking and a family history of early heart disease or stroke. These risk factors are also associated with a higher incidence of other diseases such as stroke, arrhythmia, heart failure, kidney disease and vascular diseases. It’s important to note that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to these risk factors.

To help reduce my own risk of heart disease, I am diligent in taking my blood pressure medication daily. I also purposefully use the stairs instead of the elevator when I can. Further, I do my best to maintain a heart-healthy diet that includes good proteins, good fats, reduced carbohydrates, low salt and plenty of hydration.

Dr. Kathleen Stergiopoulos, Catholic Health Cardiologist

Some of the most important symptoms of heart disease are related to symptoms of a heart attack. Women can experience chest pressure, tightness, squeezing or burning. Other symptoms can also include discomfort in the chest, shoulders, arms, back, neck or jaw. Women are more likely than men to have other associated symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unusual tiredness, cold sweats, dizziness, palpitations or weakness. Women with acute onset symptoms should be evaluated in an emergency department without delay.

A healthy diet is vital to maintaining a healthy heart. Every day, I eat a low sodium Mediterranean-style diet. This features a variety of foods such as olive oil, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, low-fat dairy, fish and beans. This style of eating can play a big role in preventing heart disease and reducing risk factors, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

St. Francis Heart Center

Highest level of cardiovascular care at locations across Long Island.

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