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Heart Disease in Women: What You Need to Know

If you ask most women what the number one cause of death in their gender is, they typically answer with one word: cancer.

However, heart disease actually tops the list. “There’s a lack of perception that it’s an important cause of death for women,” Santanu Biswas MD, of the TriHealth Heart Institute, explains. “One problem that facilitates this poor perception is that heart disease presents differently in women than in men.”

How Heart Disease Symptoms Differ in Women and Men

The classic symptoms of heart disease are chest pain and left-sided chest pressure. Other symptoms include:

  • It may feel like someone is squeezing your heart. You may feel it under your breast bone, but also in your neck, arms, stomach or upper back
  • Jaw pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Shortness of breath, and fatigue with activity

Heart disease symptoms in women, however, can be more subtle. “They may think they’re just having muscle aches or indigestion – something like that – but doctors may interpret these symptoms as being non-cardiac or non-heart related,” Dr. Biswas points out.

Other symptoms specific to women include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • General weakness

Why Symptom Variation is a Problem

Additionally, heart disease in women tends to present about 10 to 15 years later than it does in men.  “Usually, by the time they discover heart disease, they have a whole other host of other conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes – things like that,” Dr. Biswas explains.

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Last Updated: June 17, 2014