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Women's Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, though most women aren't aware of it. A major problem is that women often aren't diagnosed until they've had a major event because women often delay seeking treatment. Also, the symptoms they experience aren't the same as the crushing chest pain many men have while having a heart attack.

The Gill Heart & Vascular Institute’s Women’s Heart Health Program addresses the unique cardiac needs of women with a specially tailored program. It’s a unique, comprehensive approach that provides individualized heart care for women by women physicians, nurses and staff.

If you are a current patient and have questions, contact Denise Sparks, RN, at or 859-218-6713.

Patient appointments

Request an appointment online or call one of the locations listed below.


Health care providers, please visit our referral page to refer your patient to this service.

Director's Message

  • About Heart Disease in Women

    Studies have shown that women with coronary artery disease often visit their doctors later than men do, and women with coronary disease may have fewer cardiac diagnostic procedures performed on them. Women who have diabetes are at much greater risk for coronary artery disease. Women with dyslipidemia (bad cholesterol) require special attention as the national guidelines for ideal cholesterol levels in women vary slightly from those in men. Furthermore, the role of hormone replacement therapy in women with coronary artery disease is complex and requires special attention by physicians and health care providers to stay current on the recommendations from emerging research.

    The women providers at Gill’s Women’s Heart Health Program take a proactive approach in the cardiac care of women. This includes evaluation and treatment of the following:

    • Cardiovascular disease in pregnancy 
    • Chest pain 
    • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
    • Hyperlipidemia (elevated levels of fat in the blood)
    • Coronary artery disease 
    • Palpitations 
    • Syncope (temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure)
    • Congestive heart failure 
    • Valvular heart disease 

    In addition, the clinic offers counseling for family history of early coronary disease and hormone replacement therapy in coronary disease. Echocardiography and stress testing are available.

    Who should be referred to the Women's Heart Program?

    • Any woman who needs evaluation for the above conditions
    • Women who have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease
    • Women with a history of shortness of breath and other cardiac-related symptoms
    • Women with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as diabetes mellitus, sedentary lifestyle and tobacco use
    • Women who experienced complicated pregnancies
    • Women who have had cancer

    Listen to a podcast about women's heart health and the differences between men and women from Dr. Gretchen Wells:

  • Volcano Combomap Testing

    For years, women who had chest pain and abnormal stress tests but who had cardiac catheterization only to find no obstructive coronary artery disease were reassured that everything was okay. However, data showed that these women were at much higher risk for a particular heart condition called microvascular coronary dysfunction (MCD), which is more prevalent in women than men and can lead to serious cardiac events.

    Now at Gill Heart & Vascular Institute, we offer the Volcano Corporation ComboMap system, which allows for definitive diagnosis of MCD in our regional population of women. If you have chest pain and abnormal stress tests, but no diagnosis, ask your doctor if you are a candidate for Volcano ComboMap testing.

    If you are a provider and would like to refer a patient for Volcano ComboMap testing, contact Denise Sparks at 859-218-6713 or

  • Resources

    What’s the leading cause of death among women in Kentucky? 

    It’s not breast cancer or car accidents. It is heart disease. 

    For the last 27 years, deaths from cardiovascular disease in women have outnumbered those in men. According to the American Heart Association, in 2008 cardiovascular disease (CVD) claimed the lives of 419,370 U.S. women. That’s almost one death every minute, more than those from cancer, emphysema, Alzheimer’s disease, accidents, and diabetes combined.  Compared to deaths from CVD, in 2008 all forms of cancer killed 270,210 women. Of that, breast cancer caused 40,589 deaths. Despite this, studies have consistently shown that breast cancer tops the list of women’s health concerns. While cancer is most certainly a significant danger, statistics tell another story: women also need to see heart disease as a major health threat.

    In Kentucky, more than 4,800 women die each year from heart disease. And Kentucky women are at a much higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease than women in other states.  That’s why it’s important to learn our heart disease risk as part of our annual wellness checkup.  

    What places a woman at high risk? Women with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes, as well as women who smoke, don’t exercise, or have a family history of heart disease have the highest chance of developing CVD.  Lifestyle contributes significantly to the burden of heart disease in Kentucky, where nearly two-thirds of women are overweight or obese, and one-quarter of women smoke.  In addition to traditional risk factors, cancer survivors and women who have experienced a high-risk pregnancy may also develop heart problems later in life.  Lifestyle modifications, early intervention, and drug therapies are a few ways to reduce the possibility of suffering from CVD.

    A healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce anyone’s chances for developing heart disease. Even small changes can have a major impact. The top three healthy habits to adopt are: avoid (or vastly reduce) tobacco use, exercise, and eat well.  

    Smoking is the most preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S., and for every person who dies from smoking, 20 more people suffer from at least one serious tobacco-related illness. Tragically, an estimated 60% of children aged four to 11 are exposed to second-hand smoke.  Studies show the risk of developing heart disease is 25 to 30% higher in people exposed to second-hand smoke. 

    Another way to reduce your chance of developing CVD is regular exercise -- as little as 30 minutes a day is all that is needed. In fact, for every hour of exercise, studies estimate that people increase their lifespan by two hours. Easy ways to increase your physical activity include: doing vigorous housework; gardening or working outdoors; taking short, brisk walks; parking further away in the lot; using stairs instead of the elevator; and dancing. 

    Healthful eating is the easiest change you can make.  Avoid eating out whenever possible and place a priority on home-cooking. Smart moves include: make fruits and vegetables predominant in your diet (shoot for a minimum of five colorful servings every day); switch to whole grain bread and multi-grain cereal; eat fish two to three times a week; snack on unsalted nuts; substitute beans and legumes for animal protein.  Foods to avoid include fried foods; foods high in sodium or saturated fat; most processed foods and deli meats; salty snack foods; and sodas, both regular and diet (recent studies suggest that even diet soda is harmful to cardiovascular health).

    Finally, treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol are essential to preventing heart disease. Eating too much salt raises blood pressure, the leading cause of heart disease and stroke that kills more than 800,000 Americans each year. A study released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nine out of ten Americans exceed substantially the daily limit of sodium (it’s 2,300 milligrams), which comes mostly from processed foods people buy at the grocery store and fast food. People with hypertension should limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day. Reducing sodium intake, medications, and losing weight can help keep blood pressure in check.  According to a new study, statin therapy used to lower cholesterol, improves survival rates in women with heart disease. The analysis supports what physicians have long suspected -- statin drugs may also reduce deaths from heart disease in women as well as men.

    Knowing your risk for heart disease, making small lifestyle changes and following the American Heart Association “Life’s Simple 7” steps will ensure a longer, happier, and healthier life for you and your family.

    Women in Kentucky should rally around the American Heart Association’s new national goal:  By 2020, to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. To achieve this goal, we all should follow the organization’s “Life’s Simple 7” steps:

    1. Don’t smoke;
    2. Maintain a healthy weight;
    3. Engage in regular physical activity;
    4. Eat a healthy diet;
    5. Manage blood pressure;
    6. Take charge of cholesterol; and
    7. Keep blood sugar, or glucose, at healthy levels.

    For more information on your heart health, or to schedule an appointment to see one of our physicians at the Gill Heart Institute, please call 859-257-1000.

    UK symposium spotlights research on women’s heart health