Did you know women can present very different symptoms of heart disease compared to men?
Not only that, but 1 out of every 3 female deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to cardiac disease, and the American Heart Association (AHA) notes 44 million women in the country are affected by conditions covered under this term.
Have we gotten your attention yet? Here’s what else you need to know.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease for women is the same as heart disease for men. It is an umbrella term (also referred to as cardiovascular disease) that encompasses conditions like:
- heart attack
- hardening of the arteries
- heart failure
- issues related to the valves in the heart
Ultimately, heart disease has to do with poor blood flow to the heart and the causes behind it.
The differences: Heart disease symptoms in women vs. men
While both men and women run a risk of developing heart disease, the AHA notes that women have a higher lifetime risk of suffering a stroke, compared to men, and fewer women survive their first heart attack, compared to men.
Some of this disparity may be attributed to the fact that symptoms of heart disease in women can be different, and more subtle than in male patients, particularly when dealing with heart attacks.
Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure, ” explained Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.
“Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure, or extreme fatigue.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also note women are more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms like:
- Difficulty breathing
Alternatively, men are more likely to experience a cold sweat and arm pain when experiencing a heart attack.
Other symptoms of heart disease in women vs. men
Heart attacks are just one part of the cardiovascular disease picture, and when it comes to symptoms of heart disease in women, it’s important to also be able to recognize the warning signs of other conditions as well.
Ladies, make sure you know to look out for the following warning signs:
- Sudden severe headache
- Sudden trouble walking
- Sudden dizziness or loss of coordination
- Sudden trouble seeing/blurred vision (in one or both eyes)
- Sudden confusion
- Difficulty speaking or understanding
- Sudden numbness in the face, arm, leg, or one side of the body
Angina (chest pain)
- Feeling of pressure or squeezing in the chest
- Sharp, burning chest pain
- Squeezing sensation in the arms
Women are more likely to experience angina while at rest or during sleep. Men typically experience angina when physically active.
- Shortness of breath or fatigue that increases with physical exertion
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen
- Swelling of the veins in the neck
Broken heart syndrome
- Recent emotional trauma
- Abnormal electrocardiogram test
- No signs of heart damage on blood tests
- No signs of blockages in the arteries
- Abnormal ballooning of the lower, left heart chamber
- Fast recovery time compared to an actual heart attack
Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
- A fluttering or thumping feeling in the chest
- Loss of consciousness
Prevention of heart disease in women
Don’t let the numbers scare you; heart disease can be prevented in many cases, and there are 7 easy steps you can take to lower your risk.
To prevent heart disease, the AHA recommends:
- Keeping blood pressure within a normal range
- Controlling cholesterol levels
- Reducing blood sugar
- Staying active
- Eating healthy
- Losing weight
- Stopping smoking
And remember, when it comes to a heart attack or stroke, immediate action is critical to a positive outcome and speedy recovery.
Some women report warning signs of heart disease weeks and months before a heart attack or stroke occurs. If you experience any of the above symptoms, get to your doctor immediately, and never feel embarrassed about calling your emergency 9-1-1 service.
Even if you aren’t sure if you are having a serious heart disease issue, professionals on your 9-1-1 service can talk you through your symptoms and offer home care advice until paramedics arrive.
When dealing with your heart, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Hispanic women and heart disease symptoms
|Hispanic ladies, you're no exception when it comes to heart disease
The AHA states Hispanic women tend to develop heart disease as much as 10 years sooner than non-Hispanic white women.
What's more, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death for Hispanic women, claiming approximately 21,000 lives annually.
Only 34% of Hispanic women know heart disease is their greatest risk, so Latinas, it's time to brush up on recognizing heart disease symptoms!