Women & Heart Disease

Heart disease is not the same for men and women.

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. But there are clear differences in the way men and women experience the disease. The most common heart attack symptom in men and women is chest pain or discomfort. However, only half of women who have heart attacks have chest pain. Instead, women are more likely to report back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue or problems breathing.

Women tend to associate their symptoms with less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu or normal aging.

In both men and women, the most common cause of heart disease is a narrowing of the coronary arteries with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity as major contributing factors. However, for women, diabetes, mental stress/depression, smoking, inactivity, menopause and pregnancy complications may also play a role. There are also certain heart diseases that affect women more than men. These include coronary microvascular disease, a problem that affects the heart’s tiny arteries, and broken heart syndrome, where extreme emotional distress leads to severe, but often short-term, heart muscle failure.

To reduce the risk of developing heart disease, women can make lifestyle changes, including quitting (or not starting) smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and taking medications as prescribed. Depending on your individual risk factor, your doctor may even prescribe taking an aspirin daily.

Symptoms may include:

Coronary heart disease
• Angina – dull/heavy to sharp chest pain or discomfort
• Pain in neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back

Heart attack
• Chest pain or discomfort
• Upper back or neck pain
• Indigestion
• Heartburn
• Nausea and vomiting
• Extreme fatigue
• Upper body discomfort
• Shortness of breath

Arrhythmia
• Fluttering feelings, palpitations

Heart failure
• Shortness of breath
• Fatigue
• Swelling in feet, ankles, legs and abdomen

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