3.7 min readPublished On: March 13, 2024

Every Woman Deserves to Live!

A full house of mostly women applauded the ideas presented by Dr. Nitza Alvarez at the Wildwood Community Center in February, National Heart Health month. Her message was at once sobering, inspiring, challenging and encouraging.

Dr. Alvarez is the founder of Tri-County Heart Institute in The Villages and Leesburg. She wrote a book called Heels vs Ties to bring awareness to the fact that heart health for women is different than that of men and to encourage women to be their own health advocates.

Dr. Alvarez opened the program with these sobering statistics:

  • Approximately 64% of women who died suddenly of heart disease had no previous symptoms. ~American Heart Association
  • Only 22% of physicians and 42% of cardiologists believe they are prepared to adequately assess heart disease specific to women. ~American Medical Association, 5/9/2022
  • Each year, more women die of heart disease than all cancers combined. ~ American Heart Association
  • Women presenting to the ER with chest pain were less likely to be triaged as urgently, compared to men, and waited longer to be seen. ~Journal of American Heart Association, 5/2022
  • Only about 56% of US women recognize that heart disease is their #1 killer. ~Center for Disease Control

“Every year we bury 420,000 women from a condition that is preventable 80% of the time.  That means 336,000 women’s lives could have been saved if they only knew what to look for,” says Dr. Alvarez. “I hope you are here so that you can learn how we women are different, why we are different, so you can become your own advocate.”

Dr. Alvarez pointed out that for many years, women were excluded from medical testing for fear their hormones would skew the results. The medical treatments were designed for men, ‘but women are not little men,’ she says, adding, “We are completely different. Our cardiac condition is different in general, and it is those differences that can cost us our lives.”

She shared a story of a female patient who went to her doctor with persistent acid reflux. When her condition didn’t improve, she was sent to a gastroenterologist who changed her medication, but her symptoms got worse.

When this patient was first seen in Dr. Alvarez’s practice, after months of failed attempts at medical intervention, she was having her symptoms right there in the office. The nurse practitioner told Dr. Alvarez the patient needs to go to the hospital. The patient was in shock that she should be so sick as to warrant immediate hospitalization, but she went.

She knew she wasn’t feeling well, but she downplayed the problem, especially when the doctors told her it was just acid reflux. The patient had a major blockage affecting blood flow to her heart. After Dr. Alvarez placed a stent, her “acid reflux” symptoms went away.

“We pretend our problems are not there because we are scared,” says Dr. Alvarez, “but being scared isn’t going to save us.”

Dr. Alvarez went on to explain that the most common presentation of heart disease in women is shortness of breath. Whereas a man with heart disease will present with chest pain, a woman may experience abdominal pain, fatigue, back pain, nausea and lower chest discomfort before complaining of chest pain.

Recent studies show that men who enter the emergency room with chest pain are treated, on average, 25 minutes faster than women with the same complaint. Women are more likely to be prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication. Men are prescribed anti-coagulants and pain medications more often than women.

The two most important points that Dr. Alvarez left with the audience were:

  • You have to be your own advocate. Don’t be embarrassed to go to the emergency room with symptoms that turn out not to be a heart attack. When you know something is not right with your body, keep going to different doctors until you find the one who will listen to you.
  • Early intervention is the best intervention. The best way to deal with heart disease is to not get heart disease. It is cheaper and easier to invest in your health now, before you are sick.

“When I wrote my book, Heel vs Ties, I said if it saved just one life it would be worth it. We’ve already saved many lives, and we’re going to keep going,” Dr. Alvarez says. “I stand for every woman because I want them to be the best they can be. Every woman deserves to live.”

About the Author: Christine Andola

Christine Andola
With a bachelor’s degree in communication from the State University of New York, College at New Paltz, in 1990 Christine embarked on a blind journey to building a career. She moved through teaching in the inner city public schools, reporting for a weekly newspaper, writing user manuals and technical documentation at a software company, lobbying and public relations at the state level for national associations and marketing for professional services firms. Christine’s writing portfolio includes everything from newspapers to grant proposals. She has developed web content, written blogs, ghost-written professional journal articles and drafted ad copy. From technical writing to lifestyle feature pieces, Christine lives by the value of words. She enjoys learning about the people around her and sharing information in a way that resonates with readers.

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