Heart Disease: A Different Picture in Women?
      February 2018

















Signs and symptoms in women. Heart disease often develops when fatty
substances called plaque build up in large vessels of the heart (coronary arteries).
Narrowed arteries may slow blood flow, which may temporarily cut off oxygen to
the heart muscle. This may produce certain signs and symptoms of angina, such as
chest tightness, pressure, or discomfort. Angina usually happens when you’re
active or stressed—and goes away soon after you stop exercising or feeling stressed.
1


In women, however, symptoms may occur during normal daily activities or times
of stress and may include:

    •        Sharp, severe chest pain
    •        Chest pain that lasts longer than 10 minutes
    •        Shortness of breath
    •        Sleep problems, fatigue, and lack of energy
    •        Nausea
    •        Abdominal pain1,2

If you have symptoms like these, call your doctor right away.  

In women, symptoms of heart attack (heart damage) may be more subtle than
they are in men. They may include:

    •        Chest pressure, squeezing, or pain that lasts for a few minutes or comes
    and goes
    •        Pain in your jaw, arm, neck, stomach, or back
    •        Shortness of breath—this may happen without any chest discomfort
    •        Sweating, nausea, dizziness or light-headedness

If you have symptoms of heart attack, call 911 right away. Do not drive yourself to
the hospital. Even if you’re in doubt, get checked. Better safe than sorry? Well, that
gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it?3,4

Why symptoms may be different in women.
Researchers can’t completely
explain these differences. However, in men, heart disease usually occurs from
blockages in coronary arteries. In women, heart disease or damage may develop in
the tiny arteries that branch out from the coronary arteries. Angina symptoms
may be due to spasms within these small blood vessels. Called microvascular
disease (MVD), this may occur more often in younger women.2,3

Broken heart syndrome is another heart condition that mainly affects women.
Doctors don’t understand it well. With this syndrome, extreme emotional stress can
cause severe heart muscle failure. Although the symptoms of this syndrome are
similar to those of a heart attack, most people recover quickly and fully.5

Diagnosis. Your doctor may diagnose heart disease based on a combination of
your medical history, physical exam, and test results. However, standard tests such
as cardiac catheterization often won’t spot MVD or broken heart syndrome. That’s
because they are designed to assess blockages in the heart’s larger vessels.
Researchers are still looking for the best ways to diagnose heart disease in women.
1,6

Reducing your risks. Even with these unanswered questions, you can still do
something right now to reduce your risk of heart disease. For example, do you
need to stop smoking, drop some pounds, or increase your activity level? Do you
have high blood pressure or cholesterol? Talk with your doctor or me about ways
to reduce these risks.7 If you need any high blood pressure or cholesterol
medications, let’s work together to make sure you reap the most benefits with the
fewest side effects.



Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional
advice.  You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you
have questions or concerns about a medical condition.

Sources:     


1.        American Heart Association: “Angina in Women Can Be Different Than Men.” Available
at: http://www.heart.
org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Angina-in-Women-
Can-Be-Different-Than-Men_UCM_448902_Article.jsp#.WkbhT1VG2Hs Accessed 12-29-17.


2.        American Heart Association: “Microvascular Angina.” Available at: http://www.heart.
org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/DiagnosingaHeartAttack/Microvascular-
Angina_UCM_450313_Article.jsp#.WkbhtFVG2Hs Accessed 12-29-17.


3.        American Heart Association: “Heart Attack Symptoms in Women.” Available at: http:
//www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Heart-
Attack-Symptoms-in-Women_UCM_436448_Article.jsp#.WkbgG1VG2Hs Accessed 12-29-17.


4.        UPMC: “Heart Attack Symptoms Are Different for Women.” Available at: http://share.
upmc.com/2017/01/womens-heart-attack-symptoms/ Accessed 12-29-17.


5.        NIH: “Heart Disease in Women.” Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-
topics/heart-disease-women  Accessed 12-29-17.


6.        NIH: “Coronary Microvascular Disease.” Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.
gov/health-topics/coronary-microvascular-disease#Diagnosis Accessed 12-29-17.


7.        American Heart Association: “Menopause and Heart Disease.” Available at: http://www.
heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Menopause-and-Heart-
Disease_UCM_448432_Article.jsp# Accessed 12-29-17.
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Did you know that heart
disease remains the number 1
killer of women in the U.S.?
Responding to its signs and
symptoms can help save your
life. But first it helps to know
that women may experience
these signs and symptoms a
little differently than men.1