Recognizing and Treating Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S, claiming more than 633,000 lives each year. You might reasonably assume that this has led to more emphasis on preventative health care measures and better cardiovascular treatments. While awareness has grown, the problem cannot be fixed overnight, and heart disease continues to be an epidemic, especially for women.
The majority of heart disease research centers around men. Unfortunately, this does a disservice to the many women who also have heart disease, especially since their symptoms are often different than men’s.

Types of Heart Disease

Heart disease is an umbrella term that encompasses many types of heart problems. The most frequent root cause is plaque buildup within the cardiovascular system. Some of the most common heart disease complications include:

  • Heart attack – a blood clot deprives the heart of oxygen
  • Ischemic stroke – a blood clot deprives the brain of oxygen
  • Hemorrhagic stroke – a blood vessel bursts or leaks in the brain
  • Heart failure – the heart cannot operate at full capacity
  • Arrhythmia – the heart beats too fast, too slow or otherwise irregularly
  • Heart valve issues – the heart valves leak, prohibit blood flow or allow backward blood flow

Risk Factors for Heart Disease in Women

Men and women have overlapping risk factors for heart disease. However, some factors increase women’s risk for heart disease to a larger degree or affect women more frequently than men. These include:

  • Broken heart syndrome (reduced heart function caused by a sudden surge in stress)
  • Drops in estrogen after menopause
  • Heightened levels of anxiety or depression
  • High blood pressure while pregnant
  • Diabetes, including gestational diabetes
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Lack of exercise

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

While heart disease is a serious and potentially fatal medical problem, many women do not recognize their own symptoms or misattribute them to other illnesses. This is because most discussions of heart disease are focused on men’s symptoms, which are often different from women’s.

Women’s Heart Attack Symptoms

Most people know the major symptoms of a heart attack – chest tightness, pain and the feeling of an elephant sitting on one’s chest. While women may experience all of these symptoms, they may also experience none at all. Women may also experience minor symptoms that don’t seem related to a heart attack. These include:

  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Back, neck, jaw or abdominal pain
  • Gasping and shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heightened sense of anxiety or feeling of dread
  • Dizziness, feeling faint and loss of consciousness
  • Fatigue for days or weeks before the heart attack

To see a portrayal of what a woman’s heart attack might look like during an ordinary day, watch this video by Go Red For Women™.

Don’t Wait to Receive Medical Help

It is important that you take the symptoms listed above seriously. Women who are young and fit can still have cardiovascular problems, especially if those issues run in the family. Additionally, many women do not have any symptoms before having a heart attack or going into cardiac arrest.

A startling 35 percent of women would not call 9-1-1 first if they believed they were having a heart attack.2 Do not wait to receive help when you are having a medical emergency! Your family, work and other obligations can wait.

Get Quality Cardiovascular Care with St. Hope Foundation

Most major heart disease events are preventable through basic medical guidance and lifestyle adjustments. At St. Hope Foundation, our friendly physicians and collaborative health care teams can help you turn your heart health around. We offer a wide range of primary medical care services as well as a specialty pharmacy and women’s health care.
To schedule your appointment today, call St. Hope at 713-778-1300.