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UVA Health cardiologist stresses importance of educating women about heart disease risks

Rebecca Barnabi
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Physicians are understanding more how men and women differ when it comes to the symptoms of heart disease and heart attack, and a group at UVA is working to learn more about the No. 1 killer of women.

“Because it saves lives. Women and men can experience heart disease in different ways,” Dr. Patricia Rodriguez Lozano said during a press call Friday afternoon. Lozano is a UVA Health cardiologist and a leader of UVA Health’s Women’s Heart Health program.

Better understanding of the differences will enable physicians to develop better treatments for women, and for women to receive the correct care.

Chest pain with a cardiac event presents with both men and women, Lozano said, but sometimes women also have shortness of breath and sometimes they have emotional distress with the pain. Some women also experience fatigue months before the cardiac event.

Traditional testing may reveal negative results for women, yet the risks remain, including high cholesterol, smoking and obesity.

For women, certain life changes can present the risk of a cardiac event, including pregnancy, gestational diabetes or early on-set menopause defined as happening before age 45.

Lozano’s clinical practice and research focuses on heart disease in women and why certain conditions affect women more than men.

Education is the most important part of women understanding their risk for heart disease.

“I think really education is going to empower women,” Lozano said.

Eating healthy, including fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats, is also important, as well as staying physically active. Women should also maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol, not smoke and limit stress in their lives. Sleeping eight to nine hours every night is also crucial.

“We know a stress level can particularly affect [women],” Lozano said.

Lozano encourages women to know their numbers: cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

“This is all really important,” she said.

UVA Health’s Women’s Heart Health program began in 2022 with social workers, dieticians, physicians and pharmacists and a goal of educating all physicians about how heart disease affects women differently than men. The team conducts public lectures and screenings in public areas, especially in the most vulnerable population areas.

Lozano said that 80 percent of heart disease cases are preventable, especially by monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol.

“The awareness of heart disease as the No. 1 killer in women,” Lozano said. Hispanic and Black women are less likely than white women to understand their risks.

“If women don’t recognize this, it’s going to be less likely for them to recognize the symptoms later,” Lozano said.

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Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.