Did you know that heart disease affects women and men at equal rates, but research shows that women may be more likely than men to die after a heart attack? Here is important information to help you understand the symptoms and to keep you healthy.
More women die from heart disease than from anything else. The higher incidence rate may be due to unrecognized and/or misdiagnosed symptoms of heart disease in women, which can be more difficult to detect than the symptoms of heart disease in men. As a result, women, and even some doctors, may fail to heed the warning signs associated with heart disease.
“Although the most common presentation in women is the classic chest pressure, women are more likely to present differently than men,” said Cooper cardiologist Kathleen M. Heintz, D.O., who specializes in women and heart disease. “One of the main objectives at the Cooper Heart Institute is to help educate women as well as physicians about the symptoms of heart disease in women,” she said.
While some women describe the typical symptom of pain in the chest, others report no chest pain at all. “Some women describe a hot or burning sensation in the chest, or even tenderness to the touch in the back, shoulders, arms or jaw,” Dr. Heintz said.
Heart attacks may also behave differently in women than in men. Dr. Heintz said. She describes men as being more likely to have the classic “Hollywood-type” heart attack—the red-faced, profusely sweating, chest-clutching portrayals seen in movies, while women, on the other hand, may have no chest discomfort at all. “Women may experience nausea, vomiting, indigestion, shortness of breath or extreme fatigue, but no chest pain. Unfortunately, these symptoms are easy to attribute to something other than the heart. Women also are more likely than men to have ‘silent’ heart attacks—actual heart attacks which are symptom-free but cause damage to the heart,” Dr. Heintz said.
When women do have chest pain, they may not describe it as pain but rather as an “achy” or “heavy” feeling, and disregard the symptoms.
“For women with persistent symptoms, it may be recommended to have at least an initial evaluation with a cardiologist,” Dr. Heintz said.
What are some of the signs of heart disease in women?
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling sick to the stomach
- Feeling scared or nervous
- New or worse headaches
- An ache in the chest
- Feeling “heavy” or “tight” in the chest
- A burning feeling in the chest
- Pain in the back, between the shoulders
- Pain or tightness in the chest that spreads to the jaw, neck, shoulders, ear, or the inside of the arms
- Pain in the belly, above the belly button
“If you’re a woman with any of these warning signs, don’t wait to get help. See a cardiologist right away. Remember, preventive measures are available to protect you from the leading cause of death in women,” Dr. Heintz said.
For more information about heart disease and staying healthy, read the transcript of Dr. Heintz’ Health eTalk web chat about “What Women Need to Know About Our Hearts” at www.cooperhealth.org/healthetalk.