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Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is a term used to describe the range of conditions affecting the heart. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s well known that heart disease is the number one cause of death for men, but the data on women is relatively new,” says Olga Shabalov, MD, a cardiologist at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, who sees patients in West Mifflin and Shadyside. “We are seeing more data come out including how heart disease is more difficult to recognize in women. So, it’s very important that women also pay attention to their heart health.”

Dr. Shabalov has tips for keeping your heart healthy, and the symptoms of heart disease you should watch out for.

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What are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

A heart attack is a form of heart disease. While the classic symptom is chest pain, “it’s important to know symptoms can be vague,” says Dr. Shabalov, whose patients have reported not having any pain, but rather feeling pressure, tightness, or discomfort.

Some of Shabalov’s patients have experienced chest pain with additional symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, light headedness, weakness, heartburn, or breaking out in sweats. Women are more likely to experience these symptoms, as well as pain between the shoulder blades and in the back of the neck.

In addition to symptoms, age and family history are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

How Do You Keep Your Heart Healthy?

Leading a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing heart disease. Dr. Shabalov recommends aerobic exercise for one hour at least five days per week. “Biking, swimming, walking – any of that would be great,” she notes.

Your diet is also important. Dr. Shabalov advises a healthy diet with decreased carbohydrates and unhealthy fats, such as red meat, and an increase in vegetables, fish, and healthy fats like avocados and beans.

Everyone should also understand their blood pressure numbers. “Increases in blood pressure can go unrecognized for close to 10 years. If you run high blood pressure, you might not know it until it’s very high,” warns Dr. Shabalov.

High blood pressure can lead to a heart attack and have further impacts. “You could experience damage to your kidneys and memory before you even realize you have high blood pressure,” she adds.

Comprehensive Cardiac Care – Expanding in West Mifflin

In December 2020, Dr. Shabalov will begin seeing patients at the new UPMC Outpatient Center on Clairton Boulevard. South Hills residents will have access to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute’s world-recognized care – right in their neighborhood at a brand new comprehensive medical and outpatient surgery center. At this state-of-the-art facility, patients can receive care for all their heart needs including:

  • Echocardiograms
  • Electrocardiograms
  • Referrals to cardiac specialists
  • Stress tests

To learn more about your cardiac care options, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (1-855-876-2484) to make an appointment.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.