Health Cover Stories

Know Your Heart: W. U. Physicians

Though the words ‘heart attack’ bring to mind a red-faced male clutching his chest in agony, heart disease is an equal-opportunity killer, claiming the lives of nearly 500,000 American women annually. What’s more, warning signs of heart attack in women all too often are missed because they can differ from those experienced by men. “Cardiac symptoms in females, which can include fatigue, sweating and sleep disturbance, are sometimes so subtle, varied or atypical they’re unrecognized by women and their physicians,” says Dr. David Brown, a cardiologist at the Barnes-Jewish and Washington University Heart & Vascular Center. Research by the National Institutes of Health shows fewer than 30 percent of women report having chest pain or discomfort prior to their heart attacks, and 43 percent feel no chest pain during any phase of the attack.

But many people don’t realize that symptoms vary greatly among both genders, Brown adds. “Not all men feel the crushing chest pain radiating down the left arm that’s considered the classic male heart attack,” he says. “Yes, the three most common symptoms reported by males are chest pain, discomfort or pressure, but 10 percent of men experience no pain at all, just uneasiness, vague discomfort or feelings of heaviness.” These warning signs might be dismissed as musculoskeletal pain, gastrointestinal distress or even emotional disturbances by a physician who doesn’t know what to look for, he adds. “So proper testing, diagnosis and treatment of atypical symptoms can mean the difference between life and death.”

The Heart & Vascular Center, staffed by Washington University Physicians, provides a full range of outpatient cardiology services for women and men. “We have the team, the expertise and the technology patients need for a total approach to heart care, be it prevention, diagnosis, treatment or rehabilitation,” Brown says. “And, because Washington University is a national leader in cardiovascular research and medicine, patients have access to the latest advancements in the field.”

Located at the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital campus in Creve Coeur, the center gathers a team of board-certified cardiologists, electrophysiologists, heart failure specialists, and hypertension and vascular experts. Services include diagnostic testing, innovative therapies, and consultation and management for heart issues and cardiac diseases, with rehabilitation provided by licensed and certified staff. “Our major focus is on prevention and wellness,” Brown says. “Lifestyle changes, such as not smoking, exercising five times a week, and eating a noninflammatory, Mediterranean diet (low in simple carbohydrates but rich in vegetables, fish, nuts, fruits and healthy fats), can be more powerful than any medicine.”

Brown, recognized as a leading cardiologist by U.S. News & World Report and New York Magazine, recently celebrated his first year at The Heart & Vascular Center. “Medicine is a team sport, and free agents strive to join the best team,” he says. “I wanted to work with the top scientists and clinical cardiologists in the field, and that’s what I found at Washington University.”

Pictured: Dr. David Brown
Photo by Bill Barrett

[The Heart & Vascular Center is located at the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital campus, 1020 N. Mason Road. For more information, call 314.362.1291 or visit cardiology.wustl.edu.]

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