Cardiovascular disease is No. 1 killer of women; learn more during American Heart Month

Experts want women to learn symptoms of heart disease, attacks

Sunday, January 30, 2022
Our Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women.

It takes more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

But the American Heart Association reports there is a decline in awareness among many women of this key piece of information.

February is American Heart Month. It's 28 days to raise awareness, educate women about the symptoms and encourage them to advocate for themselves.

One of the things women should know is that symptoms of a heart attack for them, may be different.

WATCH: Our Chicago: Go Red For Women Part 1

Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, professor and vice chair of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine and president-elect of the American Heart Association Chicago Chapter, said those symptoms may include stomach pain, pain radiating down a woman's arm, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath.

So when should a woman seek help?

"If you don't feel the way you think you should, and if you're aware of all of these symptoms and if you're seeing one, or more than one of those symptoms, it's time to act immediately," Carnethon said. "You know I think for a long time heart disease was painted as a male disease and a middle- and older-age disease. And so we thought about it, and we were aware of the big three risk factors, the high cholesterol, the high blood pressure, diabetes. You know, we were aware of those things, but we didn't think as much about what we could do to prevent those from developing in the first place."

Carnethon said her research and work has really focused on the role of lifestyle behaviors -- "maintaining a healthy diet where you eat just enough and not too much, moving regularly, being physically active and sleeping well."

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Dr. Heather Baker is the principal of Dorothy Simon Elementary School in Winnebago. She also survived sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 28.

It's different than a heart attack. Sudden cardiac arrest results from an electrical disturbance in the heart. Baker said she went to work on the morning of Feb. 1, 2018 and began feeling dizzy.

But before she could say anything she said, "My heart stopped and I collapsed dead to the ground of sudden cardiac arrest."

WATCH: Our Chicago: Go Red For Women Part 2

In cases like Baker's, time is of the essence because the heart has stopped beating, and that person needs CPR immediately in order to survive.

Baker said that's what she got. Her co-workers immediately jumped into action, saving her life.

They also used the school's AED, shocking her heart three times. Now Baker is pushing for more people to be trained in CPR.

For more information on Go Red For Women, visit