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Dr. Sandra Illum

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States — claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. This toll includes an average of 64 women in Texas every day.

So during American Heart Month in February, the American Heart Association (AHA) and its Go Red For Women movement urge everyone to support the fight against heart disease in women by wearing red on Feb. 7, National Wear Red Day.

“Heart disease is both preventable and controllable if women take small steps every day to improve their heart health,” said Dr. Sandra Illum, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano and at Heart First Cardiology, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice in Plano. “It’s important for women to recognize and monitor the risk factors for coronary artery disease with help from their physician.”

Women have a higher risk for heart disease because they’re less likely to suspect heart disease in themselves — and often dismiss symptoms. Women also may have symptoms that are less specific — feeling tired or short of breath, aching in their arms or jaws — and attribute these to other causes.

While basic risk factors for heart disease are generally the same between men and women — hypertension, high cholesterol, family history, smoking and diabetes — since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and stroke, and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen, according to the AHA.

“We encourage everyone to get routine heart-disease screenings from their physician — even if you don’t think you’re at risk — because not everyone recognizes the symptoms of heart disease right away,” Illum said.

It’s also essential for women to know their family history, particularly the heart health of their parents and siblings, to lower their risk of heart disease and diabetes. Women with diabetes are three and a half times more like to die from heart disease than women who don’t have diabetes — almost twice the relative risk for fatal heart disease in men with diabetes compared to those without.

“It’s not always easy, but we know for certain that maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, being physically active and making healthy food choices all can dramatically decrease your risk of developing heart disease,” Illum said. “Incorporating these changes into your lifestyle can have a positive and sustained impact on your overall health and well-being.”

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To reduce your chances of getting heart disease it’s important to:

  • Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can result in heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Talk to your health care provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your chances of heart disease.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Discuss checking your cholesterol and triglycerides with your health care provider.
  • Make healthy food choices. Being overweight and obese raises your risk of heart disease.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.
  • Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress.

—     Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention


About Texas Health Physicians Group
Texas Health Physicians Group is Texas Health Resources’ nonprofit physician organization based in Arlington. The group includes more than 800 physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and medical professionals dedicated to providing safe, quality care for our patients. In addition to our primary and specialty practices, the organization’s network includes sleep lab services, infusion services, and diagnostic imaging in more than 230 locations in Collin, Dallas, Denton, Johnson, Parker and Tarrant counties.

Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

About Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano is a 366-bed acute care hospital and recognized clinical program leader, providing technologically advanced care to Plano and surrounding areas since 1991. The hospital’s services include orthopedics, cardiovascular services, oncology, pediatrics and women’s services. An affiliate of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system, Texas Health Plano has more than 1,600 employees and 1,300 physicians on the medical staff. For more information, call 1-877-THR-WELL or visit