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Heart Month: Heart Disease a Leading Cause of Death in Women

Vickie Geary was washing the dishes one Saturday morning when she suddenly started feeling strange. She tried to describe the symptoms she was experiencing to her husband.

“It was like a bowling ball pressing on my stomach,” said Geary, who was 55 years old at the time. “And there was a tingling in my fingertips.”

Although Geary didn’t know it, she was having a heart attack.


Currently, more than 60 million women in the United States live with heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  More women die from heart disease than from cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s, and accidents combined.

Many women don’t know the facts about heart disease or recognize the signs and symptoms, which can often present differently than in men.

Geary started having shoulder pain and called the Kaiser Permanente appointment and advice line. She described her symptoms and the nurse told her to call 911. Paramedics gave Geary a pain-relieving dose of nitroglycerine. An ambulance brought her to the nearest hospital and she was later transferred to Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara. After having triple bypass surgery, Geary is now recovered and healthy.

“Kaiser Permanente treated Vickie’s situation seriously and quickly,” said Seema Pursnani, MD, MPH, cardiologist and Director of Women’s Heart Health at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara.  “Kaiser Permanente is a fantastic system for not only preventive cardiovascular care, but also managing acute cardiac situations like the heart attack that Vicki experienced.”

Studies show there are often delays in diagnosis, testing, and treatment in women with cardiovascular disease, Pursnani said.

Kaiser Permanente takes a comprehensive approach to  supporting women’s cardiovascular health with  a combination of nation-leading prevention, cutting-edge treatment, and important research.

To help prevent heart disease, Pursnani said women should speak to their doctor and follow some of the recommended guidelines including:

  • Eat a plant-based diet, which include whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Avoid red meat and  processed foods
  • Stay active: walking 30 minutes every day is a great place to start
  • Quit smoking if you do smoke
  • Get enough sleep by aiming for 7 to 9 hours a night
  • Manage your weight, especially around the abdomen
  • Reduce your stress. Try meditating or breathing exercises
  • Track your blood pressure and cholesterol and make sure you are adhering to your medications

Learn more about cardiac care at Kaiser Permanente here:

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