Heart Disease: Women vs. Men

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 1:58 PM comments (0)

man vs woman heart healthHeart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Each year, approximately 600,000 people will die of heart disease, nearly half of them women. And yet many still believe that heart disease is a man’s disease. It’s not.

There are some possible differences, however, between men and women when it comes to heart disease. Brian Shortal, MD, Cardiologist at NorthShore, discusses these differences and the heart disease risk factors that are the same for everyone:

Age. Men are considered at cardiovascular risk starting at 40. Women, on the other hand, are considered at cardiac risk starting at 50. That does not mean that women under the age of 50 have no risk for heart disease, so any symptoms should not be disregarded.  The incidence of heart disease between men and women equalizes around 65, and studies then show that women actually begin to surpass heart disease events in comparison to men. 

Symptoms. Typically, men exhibit more classic cardiac symptoms, including pain across the chest that radiates down the arms, back and jaw, and shortness of breath. Women might display more atypical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, dizziness and syncope (fainting/temporary loss of consciousness). In fact, the most common symptom in women over 80 is not chest pain but shortness of breath. 

Risk Factors. The risk factors are the same for both men and women. The major risk factors for coronary artery disease are hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, family history of heart disease, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. If you think you might be at risk, see your physician for more information. 

Do you know your risk for heart disease?

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Cervical Cancer: Prevention and Early Detection

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 3:24 PM comments (0)

cervical cancerThough highly preventable and treatable if caught in its early stages, cervical cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide. The most significant risk factor for cervical cancer is the sexually transmitted virus, human papillomavirus, or HPV.

There are over 100 different types of HPV that are broken down into two categories: low-risk HPVs, which rarely cause cancer but can cause genital warts, and high-risk HPVs, which may cause  cancer.  HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for upwards of 70 percent of all cervical cancers. 

Kerry Swenson, MD, PhD , OBGYN at NorthShore, stresses the importance of measures and tests that can prevent or identify cervical cancer in its early and most treatable stages: 

HPV vaccine. More than 80 percent of women will be exposed to at least one strain of HPV in their lifetime.  Thankfully, there is a vaccine that can protect against the four most common strains of HPV. The vaccine only works to prevent infection and is not effective if an infection is already present, which is why it is recommended that these vaccines are administered to girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26, and boys and men between the ages of 9 and 21.  It is best to complete the HPV series before any sexual activity takes place with a potential  exposure  to the HPV virus.   By protecting against HPV, the risk of developing cervical cancer is significantly reduced.  HPV vaccines do not provide protection against all cancer-causing HPV infections so regular screening is still important.

Pap and HPV testing. Regular screening with a Pap smear may identify cervical cancer or cellular changes of the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. Women should begin Pap tests at age 21 and every three years until age 30.  At age 30, cotesting with a Pap smear and high-risk HPV test should be performed every five years, unless otherwise directed by your physician.  

Well-rounded health. A healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise and quitting smoking all contribute to lowering one’s risk for cervical cancer as well as many other types of cancer. 

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Remember to raise awareness about cervical cancer prevention among the important women in your life this month and year-round. 

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Birth Control: Options and Health Benefits

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 1:55 PM comments (0)

birth controlChoosing the right birth control method can be difficult; there are a variety of options available and nearly every type can affect different women in different ways. Ultimately the best method for each individual woman will be the one that doesn’t cause side effects that disrupt and impede normal daily activities and one she will use consistently. 

Diana Atashroo, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology at NorthShore, discusses how birth control works, as well as birth control options and possible benefits beyond pregnancy prevention: 

Hormonal birth control, often referred to as “the pill,” contains estrogen and progestin. Birth control reduces the risk of pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, or the time during a woman’s cycle when a mature egg leaves the ovaries. The pill also causes a thickening of the mucus of the cervix making it impenetrable to sperm and keeping the lining of the uterus thin.

Birth control options include:

Hormonal methods:

  1. A pill (typically a combination of estrogen and progestin, though progestin-only is also available.
  2. Skin patch changed weekly
  3. Injection given every three months
  4. Vaginal ring changed every month

Implanted devices (with and without hormones):

  1. Implant under the bicep for up to three years
  2. Intrauterine device (IUD) for between five to ten years

Health Benefits: 
The most common use of oral contraception is the prevention of pregnancy. While the daily contraception pill is the most popularly used and prescribed medication, the most effective method is the implanted devices. With appropriate use of these methods of contraception they are 99% effective. 

However, birth control is not prescribed or taken exclusively for the prevention of pregnancy. There are several benefits to hormonal birth control, and many women choose to take it for these reasons:

PMS symptom relief. Hormones have been shown to provide significant relief of many of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including menstrual cramps, headaches, depression, heavy or irregular periods and hormonal acne.

Iron deficiency anemia. Women with heavy periods often experience iron deficiency anemia due to blood loss. Hormonal birth control can make heavy periods lighter.

Reduces risk for some cancers. Birth control has been shown to potentially reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian, endometrial and colon cancers.

Bone thinning. Some studies have shown that the use of birth control helps protect against bone thinning, which begins in most women after age 30.  

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"I Thought I Was Too Young." Patient Karin Rigg Suffered a Heart Attack at 44

Monday, July 15, 2013 11:42 AM comments (0)

karin rigg

“This is something that happens to 80-year-old men,” Karin Rigg thought as she was wheeled into NorthShore’s Evanston Hospital for an angioplasty. A busy mom of four young children, Karin Rigg suffered a heart attack at only 44—a year after giving birth to her youngest child.  She never thought she was at risk for a heart attack. Yet, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in women 55 and younger. 

Successful efforts have been made to raise awareness that heart disease is a very real and very serious problem for women but more can still be done.  Studies show that only a little more than half of women would call an ambulance if they thought they were having a heart attack but more than 75 percent would call for a husband or partner.

Karin Rigg shares her experience as a young heart attack survivor and the changes she made to her life to improve her heart health. She also tells us why it is so important for women to start making their own health needs a priority. 

How do you protect your heart? Do you make your health a priority?

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Pelvic Health Conditions: Pelvic Organ Prolapse – Multiple Solutions

Monday, May 14, 2012 10:37 AM comments (0)

Pelvic ProlapseA common condition amongst both young and old women is pelvic organ prolapse. This condition happens when the uterus or vagina gets displaced and drops down.

While many women tend to ignore or live with this often disfiguring and uncomfortable condition, it can also lead to other problems including recurring bladder infections, difficulty emptying bowels and have a negative effect on sexual activity.

Dr. Tomezsko explains the various lines of treatments for prolapse:

  • Pelvic floor muscle rehab
  • Non-surgical procedure—done during an office visit—involving the vaginal placement of a supportive device.
  • Other minimally invasive vaginal or scarless procedures


According to Dr. Tomezsko, the majority of women can have great improvement with the rehab and non-surgical options.

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With all of the pelvic health conditions we have discussed this week, it is important for women to know that many conservative, non-invasive treatment plans exist for these common and chronic conditions.

Did you find the pelvic health information posted this week to be helpful? What other related topics might you be interested in learning more about?

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