For years there was a persistent myth that heart attacks weren’t really a women’s issue. The truth is that heart disease and heart attacks are the number one killer of women! In prior decades it was not understood that women experience the symptoms of heart disease and heart attacks differently than men. Fortunately, more research has been done and we now know how to identify symptoms of heart disease specific to women.
Women & Heart Attacks
Although the most common heart attack symptom for women is the same as for men (pressure or discomfort in the chest), it is often not as severe or prominent in women as it is in men. Some women experience a heart attack without any chest pains at all. Women are also more likely than man to experiences symptoms other than chest pains when experiencing a heart attack:
- Unexplained fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort in the jaw, neck, shoulders, upper back, or abdomen
- Pain in the right arm
These symptoms are dangerous because they can be more subtle than chest pains. Women also may experience chest pains as pressure or tightness instead of a crushing feeling because women are likely to have blockages in smaller arteries along with their main arteries; a condition called small vessel heart disease or microvascular disease. Women may experience symptoms of heart disease while they are resting or asleep; mental stress can also trigger symptoms.
Because a woman’s symptoms are more subtle, many don’t go to the emergency room until damage has already been done to their heart. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms please go to the hospital immediately.
Heart disease risk factors specific to women
- Type 2 Diabetes in women more significantly increases their risk of heart disease than it does in men.
- Metabolic syndrome affects women more than men (it is a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides).
- Women’s blood pressure and risk for heart disease is more affected by mental stress and depression than it is for men.
- Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
- In general, women are less active than men and inactivity is a risk factor for heart disease.
- As estrogen levels drop after menopause, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels increases.
- Gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy can increase her risk to develop these conditions than can then lead to heart disease.
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