By: Paul Boffetti, MD, FACC of Foundation Cardiology
Heart disease is a leading cause of death globally, affecting both men and women. However, it’s crucial to recognize that women may experience heart issues differently than men, putting them at risk for delay in diagnosis and treatment. Population studies nationwide demonstrate that recommended therapies and testing are not always prescribed at the same frequency for women. Understanding the unique risk factors and symptoms associated with women’s heart health is vital for early detection and prevention.
1. Hormonal Changes: Women experience various hormonal changes throughout their lives, such as during pregnancy and menopause. These fluctuations can impact heart health, influencing factors like blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
2. Birth Control Pills: Some women using oral contraceptives may be at a higher risk of blood clots and heart-related complications. It’s important to discuss the potential risks with a health care provider when considering contraceptive options, particularly if you smoke.
3. Pregnancy Complications: Conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia can increase the risk of heart disease later in life. Women who have had these complications should be particularly vigilant about their heart health.
4. Autoimmune Diseases: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which are more common in women, can also affect the heart. Managing these conditions effectively is crucial for heart health.
5. Psychosocial Factors: Stress, depression, and social isolation may impact women’s heart health differently than men. Emotional well-being is an essential aspect of overall cardiovascular health.
While most women will develop typical symptoms that are similar to men, we do see many with more subtle presentations of their heart disease. We emphasize listening carefully to how symptoms manifest and what effect they have had on a woman’s quality of life. This vigilance helps guide the evaluation, testing, and treatment that can lead to better diagnosis and improved outcomes. Symptoms to look for include:
1. Atypical Chest Pain: While chest pain is a common symptom for both genders, women may experience more subtle discomfort, such as aching or burning sensations, rather than intense pain.
2. Shortness of Breath: Women may have trouble breathing without chest pain. This symptom is often overlooked but can be indicative of heart issues.
3. Nausea and Fatigue: Women may experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or extreme fatigue, which can be associated with heart problems.
4. Pain in Other Areas: Women may feel pain or discomfort not just in the chest but also in the neck, jaw, shoulder, or upper back.
5. Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia and other sleep issues may be linked to an increased risk of heart disease in women.
Educating yourself about risk factors and symptoms associated with heart health is an important first step toward early intervention and prevention of heart issues. Regular check-ups, a heart-healthy lifestyle, and open communication with health care providers can contribute to better outcomes for women in the fight against heart disease. Empowering women with knowledge about their unique cardiac risks will undoubtedly pave the way for healthier hearts and longer, more vibrant lives.
Paul Boffetti, MD, FACC practices at Foundation Cardiology.