Recognizing heart disease warning signs in women

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Heart disease remains a leading cause of death among women worldwide, yet the symptoms can be less obvious compared to men, leading to underdiagnosis and delayed treatment.

This review explores the symptoms of heart disease in women, highlighting the importance of early recognition and providing an accessible overview of the latest research findings.

Chest Pain: Not Always the Main Symptom

While chest pain is a well-known sign of heart disease, it’s important to note that women may experience it differently than men. Women are more likely to describe their chest pain as sharp and burning, and it’s often more diffuse across the chest rather than localized on the left side.

However, many women with heart disease do not experience chest pain at all. According to a study in the “Journal of the American Heart Association,” women are more likely to report unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, and anxiety as the predominant symptoms.

Unusual Fatigue and Sleep Disturbances

One of the most common, yet frequently overlooked, symptoms of heart disease in women is unusual fatigue. Women might find themselves feeling tired even without exertion, or they may notice that simple activities like making the bed or walking to the bathroom suddenly become exhausting.

Research from the Circulation journal points out that this type of fatigue can occur weeks before a heart attack, serving as a critical warning sign.

Sleep disturbances are another symptom disproportionately affecting women with heart disease.

Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep without a clear cause can be linked to an underlying heart condition. These symptoms are often misattribated to stress or menopause, leading to underdiagnosis.

Shortness of Breath, Nausea, and Dizziness

Shortness of breath is another key symptom that can manifest without accompanying chest discomfort. Women may notice that they are unable to breathe deeply, feel winded after minimal physical effort, or experience episodes of breathlessness while at rest.

Additionally, feelings of nausea or light-headedness are common and may occur along with or independent of breathlessness.

According to the American Journal of Cardiology, these symptoms can often appear in women during normal daily activities or even during rest, contrasting with men who often report these symptoms during physical exertion.

Jaw, Neck, Back, and Arm Pain

Women are more likely than men to experience pain in parts of the body other than the chest when having a heart attack. Pain in the jaw, neck, upper back, or either arm can occur when the heart is not getting enough blood.

This type of pain is often sudden, not necessarily triggered by physical exertion, and can come and go. A comprehensive study published in Heart journal found that women frequently reported these atypical pain locations during heart attack episodes.

Indigestion and Other Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Heart disease in women can sometimes mimic gastrointestinal issues, such as indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain. These symptoms can lead to misdiagnosis as women might seek treatment for gastrointestinal diseases instead of heart disease.

The New England Journal of Medicine discusses cases where women presented with what appeared to be digestive disturbances but were later diagnosed with cardiovascular conditions.

When to Seek Help

Understanding these symptoms is crucial for women and healthcare providers to recognize and act on heart disease promptly.

Women should seek medical attention if they experience any of these symptoms, especially if they occur suddenly or are unusual for their normal state of health. Early detection and treatment can significantly improve the outcome.

In conclusion, heart disease in women can present differently, often with subtler, less recognized symptoms than in men.

Recognizing these signs—ranging from unusual fatigue and sleep disturbances to atypical pain and gastrointestinal symptoms—is vital for early diagnosis and effective treatment.

By spreading awareness and encouraging women to listen closely to their bodies, the likelihood of preventing serious outcomes from heart disease can be significantly increased.

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