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Women & Heart Disease: Understanding & Reducing Your Risk With Dr. Katie Schoenman

Headshot of Dr. Katie Shoenman

By Dr. Katie Schoenman  

When you think of heart disease, it’s likely the image of a man clutching a chest and falling over may come to mind. And, while heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” almost as many women as men die each year of heart disease in the United States. 

Today, heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths annually or approximately one death every minute.

Fortunately, about 80% of heart disease may be preventable. 

What is Heart Disease? 

The term “heart” or “cardiovascular disease” is used to describe a range of conditions affecting the heart. And, while the most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which affects blood flow to the heart, heart disease also includes:

  • Heart attack
  • Congenital heart defects (or conditions you’re born with)
  • Congestive heart failure 
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Heart valve disorders
  • Arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation (or heart rhythm problems)
  • Heart infections

Over the past decade, there have been increases in awareness of women’s heart disease; however slightly more than half of women recognize that heart disease is their number one killer

Am I at Risk for Heart Disease? 

There are two types of risk factors for heart disease – those you can control and those you cannot control. Risk factors for heart disease that cannot be controlled include your gender, your family medical history and your age.

There are several heart disease risk factors you can take steps to control. These include:

  • Obesity or being overweight 
  • Physical inactivity 
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels  
  • High blood pressure 
  • Smoking 

Nearly half of all Americans have at least one of three key risk factors for heart disease. These three key risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, and high cholesterol. 

Can I Reduce My Risk of Heart Disease?

WIth work, it may be possible to address risk factors that increase your chances of developing heart disease,

  • You can start by knowing your numbers, which means knowing your blood pressure. High or uncontrolled blood pressure can increase your risk of developing heart disease, especially since it has no other symptoms and may go unchecked without monitoring. High blood pressure may be controlled through lifestyle changes or medications.
  • If you are overweight, talk with your Queen’s primary care provider about ways to reach a healthy weight to better control this risk factor for heart disease.
  • Find ways to effectively manage your stress and potentially avoid key stressors in your life.
  • If you smoke, quit. And, if you don’t currently smoke, don’t start. Your doctor can help with smoking cessation options. 
  • If you’re currently physically inactive, consult with your Queen’s provider about beginning a healthy exercise routine.
  • If you’re not currently controlling unhealthy cholesterol, you can reduce saturated fats and eliminate trans fats from your diet.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

While heart disease is the number one killer of women in Hawaii, women’s heart attack symptoms may not always be self evident and may be perceived to be non life-threatening conditions such as the flu, reflux, or another non-urgent condition. According to the American Heart Association, heart attack symptoms for women may include: 

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that may last  more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Unlike men, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

When it comes to heart disease, the more you know, the better chances you have of beating and preventing it. 

During Heart Month this February, The Queen’s Health System is participating in Go Red for Women, an initiative that spires women to make lifestyle changes, mobilzies communities, and shapes policies to save lives. On February 5, we invite you to join our caregivers and the Queen’s community in wearing red to raise awareness about heart disease in women.

About Dr. Katie Schoenman  

Dr. Katie Schoenman is a general cardiologist and assistant professor at the University of Hawai‘i. Her focus is on non-invasive medical and diagnostic cardiology with a special interest in medical education, outpatient and inpatient consultative cardiology as well as echocardiography. She is a member of the American College of Cardiology and American Society of Echocardiography.

  • Board Certified in Cardiovascular Disease
  • Board Certified in Echocardiography 
  • Board Certified in Internal Medicine
  • Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship-Chief Fellow, University of Hawai‘i
  • Internal Medicine Residency, Lehigh Valley Health Network/Penn State
  • D.O. Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Bachelors of Science, Ursinus College

Caring for the Hearts of Hawai’i 

Queen’s Heart at The Queen’s Medical Center offers comprehensive patient-centered cardiovascular medicine, surgical care and diagnostic testing all in one convenient setting. For both routine and more complex heart and vascular conditions, our world-class team provides comprehensive services utilizing the most advanced technology, treatment and care options to ensure the highest quality of cardiac care for our patients.

From your general cardiology needs to the most complex surgical or non-invasive procedures, Queen’s Heart provides compassionate cardiac care to you and your ohana (family). Our multidisciplinary team of board-certified, professionally trained physicians and advanced practice nurse practitioners are committed to providing expert diagnosis, treatments and care for the full range of cardiac and vascular conditions to improve the quality of our patients’ lives.

With the help of our Queen’s Heart team, you can keep your heart healthy and holidays bright. Explore other heart health tips and information at

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