Are Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women Different than in Men?

More than half of the 500,000 individuals who die each year from a heart attack are women. Unfortunately, heart conditions are often stereotyped as a primarily male health concern, and symptoms of heart disease in women go unchecked because they differ than those found in men.

For example, in a 2005 survey cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 92 percent of people were able to recognize chest pain as a sign of a heart attack. But symptoms such as chronic fatigue, anxiety and sleep disturbances can also be warning signs of a heart event for women.

If you are a woman of any age, it's critical that you know and understand the different women's heart disease symptoms, so you know how to take control of your health and potentially save your life.

Know the Symptoms

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, causing approximately one in every four fatalities each year. Educational programs have made great strides in alerting people to the warning signs of heart disease, as well as heart events such as heart attacks. But only in recent years has the medical community taken greater steps to ensure women and men are aware of the gender-specific signs of heart issues.

While many women think they are at little risk for heart disease - either due to age, history or lifestyle - the reality is that even young, relatively healthy women may find themselves experiencing a heart incident. That is why it is so important to know symptoms of heart disease in women.

Signs of Heart Issues in Women

The term "heart disease" actually refers to a collection of different conditions and coronary events, rather than a singular diagnosis. Each one has distinct symptoms, although they may be closely related in terms of your overall health. Remember these are all possible signs of heart issues, but you may experience only one or a few. For example, some women have a heart attack without experiencing chest pain.

Coronary heart disease - which can lead to a heart attack - is a condition characterized by reduced blood flow to the heart. Over time, the major blood vessels (coronary arteries) that provide oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to the heart may narrow due to a buildup of cholesterol and other waste deposits.

You can have coronary heart disease for many years and not know it. Common symptoms of CHD in women include angina (chest pain) and pain in the neck, jaw, upper abdomen, or back.

With a heart attack, women may experience the following symptoms, in addition to chest pain:

  • Upper back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath and fatigue, as well as swelling of the abdomen, feet, ankles, and legs.

Another relatively common condition is arrhythmia, which is characterized by an irregular or abnormal heartbeat. You may experience heart palpitations or a fluttering sensation. This becomes more serious when it leads to other symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Heart events of any kind are a serious medical emergency. So if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms, contact 9-1-1 services immediately.

Taking Control of Your Health

Heart disease is a serious concern for women. But knowing the signs and symptoms of chronic disease or a coronary event can help you to get long-term treatment and life-saving assistance in an emergency.

Take steps to help yourself and the other women in your community. Discuss the symptoms of heart disease in women with your family members so they know what to look for and be vigilant to protect those around you by spotting the signs in others. Heart disease can affect women of all ages, so make women's heart disease symptoms a family conversation that includes all generations.

Have questions?

If you're interested in learning more about symptoms of heart disease in women, or to schedule a consultation, call us at 202-877-3627.

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Women and Heart Disease: What you Need to Know

Eighty percent of all heart disease is preventable – and heart disease does affect women. In fact, it is the leading cause of death among women in the U.S. So it is very important for women of all ages to learn the facts about heart disease and know the symptoms, because there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and get treatment when you most need it.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Many different factors can put women at risk for developing heart disease.  Some things are out of your control. However, it is important to understand how the following risk factors contribute to your chances of developing heart disease:

  • Age - Research indicates that about 6 out of 100 women in their 40’s will develop coronary heart disease growing to nearly 1 out of 5 women in their 80’s.
  • Family History of Heart Disease - You are at greater risk if a close family member, a parent, brother, sister or grandparent developed heart disease before age 59.
  • Race – African–American women are at higher risk of developing heart disease as compared to women of other races.

Risk factors more under your control include:

  • Smoking – Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times and women who smoke have a 25 percent higher risk of developing heart disease than men who smoke.
  • Obesity - Excess body weight puts a strain on your heart, raising your blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol. Obesity also increases your risk for developing diabetes.
  • Diabetes- Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without the condition.
  • High Blood Pressure (HBP) - Elevated blood pressure makes the heart work harder. Chronic HBP scars and damages your arteries and can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure and
  • Lack of Physical Activity - A lack of physical activity comes with great risks as a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk for blood clots, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other heart related problems.
  • High Cholesterol - Cholesterol hardens over time into plaque which can narrow the artery walls and reduce blood flow leading to blood clots, heart attacks or strokes.

The ABCs of Women’s Heart Disease Symptoms

Heart disease symptoms can be different for women than men. They are sometimes subtler in nature and harder to identify. Because women tend to dismiss their symptoms as not significant, they are more likely to have a silent heart attack or die during their first heart attack.

The following is an ABC listing of heart disease symptoms to help guide you.

  • Angina:  pain, discomfort or fullness in the chest. (Women also report pain in the jaw, right arm or abdomen.)
  • Breathlessness: experienced during activities or waking up breathless at night
  • Blackouts: fainting
  • Chronic fatigue: an inability to complete routine activities and a constant feeling of tiredness
  • Dizziness: this can indicate irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias
  • Edema: swelling, particularly of the lower legs and ankles
  • Fluttering heartbeats: palpations, rapid heartbeats that may cause pain or difficulty breathing
  • Gastric upset: nausea or vomiting, unrelated to diet, indigestion or abdominal pain

If you experience any of these symptoms frequently (about once a day), see a physician—the symptoms are serious and should not be ignored. Keep notes about when the symptoms occur, what triggers them, and what, if anything, relieves them. It is also helpful to make a list of past treatment and all medications you are currently taking.

How can I prevent heart disease?

There are steps you can take today to prevent heart disease. Here are some ways you can stay healthy:

  • Identify behaviors that contribute to your risk (smoking, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise)
  • Ask your physician about your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, body mass index or BMI
  • Learn about your family history
  • Discuss all of the above with your physician

We urge you to start on the road to become heart healthy today.  Learn more about heart disease.  Seek out guidance and support from medical professionals. Heart disease can be treated, prevented and even ended.

Have Any Questions?

We are here to help! Contact us for more information about heart health or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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