Doctors' Notes

Matters of the Heart: A Woman’s Risk

Our physician experts discuss why so many women are dying from heart disease. Risk factors that raise your risk of heart disease.
Credit: Thinkstock

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


February is American Heart Month and it is a great time to remind ourselves of the importance of a heart healthy life.  This month, we will focus on “Matters of The Heart” and the various ways your heart affects your health.

What do attorney and TV personality Star Jones, Basketball Wives’ cast member Tami Roman, and R&B superstar Toni Braxton have in common?  They were all diagnosed with a form of heart disease in their 40s.  The unfortunate thing is that this isn’t all that unusual.  In fact, heart disease is the number #1 killer of all women.

Dr. Karla says:

It is estimated that almost 600,000 people in this country die annually from heart disease.  That’s more than AIDS, more than cancer, more than these diseases combined.  Half of these deaths are in women.  While high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease in both women and men, there are other risk factors that seem to have a greater impact on us as women.  These specific risk factors include stress, smoking, menopause, and the presence of metabolic syndrome — a combination of abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides.

Additionally, those women who have reached menopause appear to be at greater risk for developing heart disease.  Estrogen, a reproductive hormone that declines at the time of menopause is believed to help keep blood vessels flexible allowing for improved blood flow in a woman’s younger years.  It is also believed that many other risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol tend to be more prominent in those of menopausal age.

However, heart disease is not just something only older women should worry about.  That is a common misconception.  Women of all ages should take heart disease seriously.

Dr. Rob says:

Many women believe heart disease to be a man’s disease, or a disease of the elderly.  However, just as the celebrity examples shown above indicate, heart disease can happen in any woman, at any age.  Tragically, most women don’t perceive heart disease as their #1 health risk.  One of the reasons why heart disease in women has flown under the radar is the fact that symptoms in women can be different from symptoms in men.

Just as in men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest.  However, women are also more likely to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain.  These symptoms include:

*Jaw pain

*Neck, shoulder, upper back

*Abdominal pain

*Nausea or vomiting


*Shortness of breath


*Lightheadedness or dizziness


If you are at risk of heart disease and experience any of these symptoms, don’t delay and seek medical attention right away. 

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!