Heart disease is often viewed as a serious issue for men, in particular. However, both men and women are affected since it is the number one cause of death* for American women as well as men.
At Premier Medical Group, we understand that your heart health matters and our team of cardiologists are trained to help you recognize your risks. Let’s delve into how heart disease can differ in women so you can more easily spot the symptoms and make lifestyle changes to improve your overall health.
How Heart Disease Differs in Women Versus Men
The term “heart disease” refers to several chronic conditions affecting the heart. These conditions in general result in symptoms associated with intense chest pain, particularly in men. However, women may experience other kinds of pain or may have a heart attack without experiencing chest pain at all.
One main factor that results in the variance of these symptoms relates to a condition called coronary microvascular disease (MVD), which is more common in women than in men. Also known as small artery disease or vessel heart disease, MVD typically presents symptoms that include dull chest pain or discomfort, unlike the intense pain associated with heart disease in men.
The chest pain associated with MVD is called microvascular angina and may even affect women while they rest. Angina can last for about 15-20 minutes in duration and also affects younger women. In addition, the pain may occur along with shortness of breath and typically is first noticed during times of increased stress or may occur unexpectedly during daily routine activities.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
As suggested previously, a heart attack in women may be much different in terms of symptoms than one might initially expect. Firstly, the pain may seem less intense when compared to the pain that generally occurs during heart attacks affecting men. Secondly, a heart attack that occurs because of MVD is not only more likely to affect women than men but it can also impact younger women who may not be prepared to recognize its symptoms. For these reasons, it’s imperative that women of all ages know what symptoms to look for when a heart attack occurs.
Common symptoms of a heart attack in women include the following:
- Dull pain or discomfort in the chest
- Pain that spreads beyond your chest to one or both of your arms or to your neck
- Discomfort in jaw, shoulder, upper back or upper belly
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Persistent or unusual fatigue
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Heartburn/ indigestion
Knowing one’s risk for heart disease is one of the most effective ways women can prepare to improve their heart health and live more abundant lives. This is especially important if you have a history of heart disease or chronic ailments such as diabetes in your family.
Risks for Heart Attack in Women
Women can be affected by similar risks as men when it comes to heart disease in general. These risks may include hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity. However, other heart disease risks may impact women in particular, especially those who may be susceptible to developing MVD, i.e. small blood vessel disease.
Heart disease risks for women include the following:
- Family history
Women with a history of heart disease in their family, particularly those where the disease affects women, show greater risk of developing heart disease.
Emotional/ mental distress and depression can have a significant impact on a woman’s heart. MVD in women, in particular, is known to be exacerbated due to stress.
Typically described as a body mass index (BMI) that is 30 or higher, obesity can result in an increased risk for heart disease in women.
- Inactivity lifestyle
Consistent inactivity due to a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to decreased heart health.
Women that smoke are at a higher risk of developing chronic heart ailments.
This is a common factor that could lead to increased risk for heart disease.
By knowing the levels of risk that can lead to heart disease, women can seek active ways to improve their heart heart. Many of these changes relate to lifestyle improvements and exercise.
Lifestyle and Exercise Tips to Reduce Your Risk
Firstly, it’s important to know one’s family history. Were there any women in your family that developed heart disease? Did they develop this fairly early in life or post middle age?
Knowing if there’s a history of heart disease in your family can help you make active decisions now to reduce your risk. Also consider the following lifestyle changes:
- Prioritize physical activity
- Eat healthy
- Lose or manage weight
- Manage blood pressure
- Control your cholesterol levels
- Reduce blood sugar
- Stop smoking
When to See a Doctor
Seek expert care and advice to help support your heart health. Should you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, dizziness, seek emergency medical care immediately.
In matters of the heart, there always needs to be trust. Cardiologists at Premier are passionate about helping you stay healthy and active. Their esteemed training and competences means that they are uniquely prepared to assess your risk and to provide recommendations for improving your heart health.
Give us a call and schedule an appointment at one of our convenient locations in Newburgh or Poughkeepsie, call #845.565.4400.