Contrary to popular belief, more women than men die of heart disease each year, according to Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of heart disease in women are often more subtle than men.
Men are much more likely to show and experience unmistakable symptoms when suffering a heart attack — such as intense chest pain and trouble breathing.
But for women, symptoms of a cardiac problem can be very different. A woman may not even experience obvious chest pain during a heart attack.
Why the Difference?
A heart attack occurs when there’s a decrease in blood and oxygen to the heart because of a clogged artery. Blood flow may even become cut off entirely. Arteries can become clogged over time due to coronary artery disease, which is a buildup of fat, cholesterol and plaque.
In women with heart disease, the body’s main arteries experience blockage just like in the smaller peripheral arteries, in a condition called microvascular disease. Because of this, heart attacks can feel different to women than men. Instead of sharp, stabbing pain in the upper chest, they may feel increasing pressure or fullness in a woman’s lower chest or upper abdomen.
Women often mistakenly assume these symptoms to be a result of the flu, acid reflux or just getting older — causing heart attacks to go unnoticed. Without quick action, however, extensive damage can occur to a woman’s cardiovascular system and lead to other long-term health problems.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
It’s important for women to know beforehand how heart attacks might feel. According to The American Heart Association, common symptoms of heart attacks for women are
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath with or without chest pain
- Discomfort in either arm
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
Learn more about heart health.
Know the Symptoms to Save Your Heart
Because women don’t always recognize what’s happening during a heart attack, their cardiovascular systems can suffer damage during the event itself. Women also tend to downplay what’s happening to their bodies and wait until it’s too late to seek medical treatment.
If you think you’re experiencing a heart attack, call 9-1-1 or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room. Never try to drive yourself.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease in Women
High blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity can lead to coronary artery disease in both men and women, but women are more prone to other factors, including
- Metabolic syndrome
- Emotional stress and depression
- Feeling the urge to smoke
- A lack of physical activity
- Decreased estrogen following menopause
- High blood pressure or gestational diabetes during pregnancy
If you find that you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease, talk to you doctor for recommendations on adopting a heart healthy lifestyle.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.