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
- 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:
- 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.