Heart disease is often considered a universal threat, as it is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America. However, the way heart disease manifests can differ between genders. The stereotypical image of a heart attack often portrayed involves a man clutching his chest in pain. Unfortunately, this portrayal can lead to the misinterpretation of symptoms in women, resulting in delayed diagnosis and treatment.
“As women, we do not always have the typical ‘elephant sitting on the chest’ type of symptoms associated with coronary artery disease,” said Dr. Jennifer Mirza. “Symptoms of heart disease in women can be vague, but being aware of the signs and symptoms that women report most often is very important. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Talk with your primary care provider or make an appointment to see a heart doctor.”
Here are some unique heart symptoms that women may experience:
The Silent Threat:
Heart disease is often referred to as a silent killer, and this holds especially true for women. Women may not always exhibit the classic symptoms associated with heart attacks, such as severe chest pain. Instead, they may experience more subtle signs that can easily be attributed to other conditions or dismissed altogether.
Shortness of Breath:
One common symptom women may experience during a heart event is shortness of breath. This can occur suddenly or develop gradually and may be mistaken for a respiratory issue rather than a cardiac one. Women might feel breathless during activities previously posed no challenge, like climbing stairs or walking short distances. Recognizing this change in respiratory patterns is crucial for early detection.
While fatigue is a symptom that can be associated with various conditions, unexplained and persistent fatigue, especially in combination with other symptoms, could be a sign of heart trouble. Women might feel overwhelmingly tired, finding it difficult to complete routine tasks or experiencing extreme exhaustion even after a whole night’s sleep.
Discomfort in the Upper Body:
Unlike the classic portrayal of chest pain, women might experience discomfort in other areas of the upper body during a heart event. This can include pain or pressure in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or arms. These symptoms may come and go, making it easy to dismiss them as temporary discomfort rather than a warning sign of a heart issue.
Indigestion or Nausea:
Some women may mistake heart-related symptoms for indigestion or a gastrointestinal issue. Heartburn, nausea, or a feeling of abdominal discomfort can be early indicators of heart trouble. Women need to pay attention to these symptoms, mainly if they occur without cause.
Understanding the unique heart symptoms in women is just one part of the equation. Taking proactive steps to reduce the risk of heart disease is equally important. Lifestyle modifications, including a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management, can significantly contribute to cardiovascular well-being. Regular check-ups and screenings become even more crucial for women, helping to identify risk factors early on and allowing for timely interventions.
In the United States, 44% of women have some form of heart disease. Recognizing the unique heart symptoms in women is a crucial step toward early detection and effective intervention. By dispelling stereotypes and promoting awareness, we can empower women to prioritize their heart health and seek medical attention when needed. Education among healthcare professionals and the general public plays a pivotal role in ensuring that heart disease in women is identified and addressed promptly, ultimately saving lives and promoting heart-healthy communities.
To learn more about Women’s Cardiology Services at Erlanger, visit Erlanger.org/HerHeart