True or false? Heart attack symptoms differ in men and women

When you think of heart attack symptoms, what comes to mind first? Most people assume a heart attack will present with intense chest pain or pressure, and while that’s true some of the time, there are lots of other things to watch out for.

When it comes to a heart attack, it’s important to recognize that men and women do, in fact, typically have different symptoms. According to Lawrence Kline, DO, a cardiologist with HonorHealth Heart Group – Arrowhead, women having a heart attack often don't have the classic crushing chest pain that most of us associate with a heart attack. Women are more likely to have more subtle heart attack symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath and jaw pain. If they do have chest pain, it’s usually only noticed while they're at rest. By comparison, men having a heart attack most often experience chest pain when they're active or exercising.

In addition to these obvious differences in heart attack symptoms, there is a lot going on inside the body that highlights further differences between women and men when it comes to heart health. “Women tend to have a higher systolic blood pressure, higher triglyceride levels and higher levels of high-sensitive C-reactive protein or HsCRP, which is a marker for inflammation and increased acute risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Kline.

In addition to these obvious differences in heart attack symptoms, there is a lot going on inside the body that highlights further differences between women and men when it comes to heart health. “Women tend to have a higher systolic blood pressure, higher triglyceride levels and higher levels of high-sensitive C-reactive protein or HsCRP, which is a marker for inflammation and increased acute risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Kline.

While it’s important for everyone, it’s especially important for women to know their numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference, blood sugar and cholesterol levels and discuss these with their doctors.

Another difference? “It’s quite common to learn that my female heart patients have ignored their own health for quite some time because they have been so busy taking care of their families,” says Dr. Kline. “Women need to be aware that heart disease is the greatest risk for their health and take the necessary precautions to keep their heart healthy.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing about one in five women each year. For women, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is exponentially higher than the risk of dying from breast cancer and twice as high as the risk of dying from all other cancers combined.

"That's why I encourage women to exercise, avoid tobacco, eat healthy and undergo frequent heart health screenings," says Dr. Kline.

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Women and heart disease