Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital July 12, 2012
Did you know that heart disease affects more women than men and that the warning signs of heart attack can vary greatly between the sexes?
Long considered a man’s problem, heart disease is actually responsible for 52 percent of all deaths in American women, claiming 250,000 female lives every year – more than all forms of cancer. And, on top of this staggering statistic, studies have shown that women are more likely to have a heart attack as the first sign of heart disease.
“Rather than the chest pain and pressure radiating up the arm and to the jaw often experienced by men, there are data that women are more likely to experience symptoms of heart attack that are less typical, such as abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath, and sweatiness,” says Dr. Paula Johnson, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease in Women and Chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explaining that women often ignore these symptoms as they can easily be mistaken for other less serious conditions.
Other less common symptoms of heart attack that women experience include mid-back pain, indigestion, and extreme fatigue.
Dr. Johnson cautions, “This is why it is important for all women to monitor their risks for heart disease with their doctor and to understand the range of symptoms that can indicate heart disease.”
Some heart disease risk factors you cannot change, including family history and growing older. But there are other risk factors you can impact through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight, and stress. Also, if you have diabetes it is important to keep it under control, and if you smoke, quit.
In the event that you or a loved one experience any symptoms of heart attack – common or less common – you should call 911 even if they subside after a few minutes.
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