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Women and Heart Disease

About 460,000 women will die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases this year. Every minute a woman dies of heart disease. While one in 30 women die from breast cancer, one in every 2.6 women die from cardiovascular disease.

Women receive less treatment for heart disease than men even though more women die from it. In fact, heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases will kill more women than the next five causes of death combined. Women often dismiss their symptoms of heart attack, or they put off seeing their primary care doctor for routine exams. These delays in care can be devastating and life threatening.

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease can be prevented, so it's important to know the signs and symptoms. Heart disease symptoms in women include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Pain in the upper back, jaw, or neck.
  • Unusual, unexplainable fatigue or weakness.
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and cold sweats.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Chest discomfort: A sensation of aching, tightness, or pressure. Women are more likely not to experience severe chest pain. What's more, women may not describe this discomfort as pain.
  • Indigestion.
  • Feelings of anxiety, loss of appetite and discomfort.

When it comes to diagnosis and treatment for heart disease, women should be medically assessed in a way that differs from men. Here's why:

  • Women tend to wait longer than men to go to an emergency room when having a heart attack. That means they're likely to arrive in emergency rooms after suffering much heart damage.
  • Once women seek medical attention, their symptoms are more likely to be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, especially at the primary care level. Physicians are often slower to recognize the presence of heart attacks in women because "characteristic" patterns of chest pain and EKG abnormalities are less frequently apparent.
  • Women have a higher occurrence than men of chest pain not caused by heart disease. For example, chest pain can originate from a spasm of the esophagus.
  • Largely because of the protective effects of estrogen until menopause, women tend to be 10 years older than men at the time of presentation with heart disease. Due to their advanced age, women exhibit a higher prevalence of risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Find an HonorHealth cardiac specialist.