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Dr. Morton Rinder, St. Luke's Hospital

New research is a reminder for women to take coronary artery disease seriously

Coronary artery disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular death is more common in women than the next five most commonly-diagnosed diseases combined, including cancer. And although we have made great strides in cancer awareness in women, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to cardiovascular disease awareness. For example, half of all women who have had heart attacks didn't think they were having heart problems when they first experienced chest pains.

In general, women can expect heart disease to catch up with them as they get older. Heart disease risk factors can accelerate because of low estrogen as a result of menopause, hypertension and increased cholesterol. In addition, the incidence of coronary artery disease and stroke is higher in women than it is in men of similar age.

We have a lot of information regarding heart disease as it relates to women, but it is relatively recent because women have been under-represented in previous scientific trials. A recent study published by the McMaster Institute evaluated the characteristics of women having a heart attack. 26,000 men and women were included in this study. The data showed that women who had chest pain while doing minimal activity were more likely to have extensive disease in their heart arteries than men.

This finding is particularly worrisome since more advanced coronary artery disease also means a higher death rate. Patients with extensive disease are also more likely to require procedures such as bypass surgery or multiple stents to provide better blood flow to the heart.

This study is further evidence that women need to be evaluated and screened early for any suspicious symptoms - especially if they have risk factors for heart disease. Ignoring symptoms can result in delayed evaluation and more pronounced disease. Prevention is the key. Cholesterol evaluation, blood pressure control, increased physical activity, smoking cessation programs, a heart-healthy diet and, in some cases, taking a daily aspirin can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Dr. Morton Rinder specializes in general cardiology and interventional cardiology at Premier Heart Group on the St. Luke's Hospital campus. Call 314-485-3500 or visit his Physician Referral page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 23, 2010.