Men and women share some of the same symptoms of an impending heart attack, but many individuals are unaware of their risk factors and indicators. Heart disease is the narrowing of the arteries over time, due to a build-up of plaque that can in some cases cause a complete blockage of the blood vessels or coronary arteries, and it’s the number one killer of women, taking 1 out of 3 women’s lives each year. With so much focus on other diseases that affect females, like breast cancer and autoimmune disorders, heart disease is often overlooked and underestimated. One woman dies every minute of cardiovascular disease.
Why is it so important to differentiate between heart risks for women and men? It’s unfortunate, but women’s heart attack and stroke episodes are on the rise, and women often overlook the signs and symptoms that are plaguing them day in and day out. A primary reason for this is the symptoms are frequently confused with other disorders, and women’s warning indicators are different than those for men. With such an all-encompassing set of risk factors for heart disease that is familiar to most individuals, the primary issue is, women are uncertain of their gender’s unique signs.
Symptoms in Women
• Excessive sweating
• Sleep disturbances
• Shortness of breath, fatigue
• Pain in the jaw
• Shoulder pain
• Upper back pain
• Neck pain
• Abdominal pain
Symptoms in Men
• Chest Pain and tightness
• Shortness of breath
• Rapid heart rate
• Grayish color to the skin
• Arm/Shoulder Pain
• Abnormal heart palpitations
Many factors play a role in how heart disease affects women; a leading culprit is hormonal changes. When hormones are out of balance, additional factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and weight gain arise, and all of these symptoms contribute to heart disease.
Linking hormonal changes to the increase in women developing heart disease are also marked by risk factors such as having had gestational hypertension or gestational diabetes. Along with menopause and the related hormonal fluctuations, eating an unhealthy diet, having uncontrolled hypertension or high cholesterol, being overweight, mental anxiety or unresolved stress, and smoking or previously smoking all play a considerable role in heart disease. For men, many cardiac issues are brought on by stress and unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits.
Coronary Microvascular Disease MVD
The tiniest blood vessels are connected to the larger vessels and arteries, but these small delicate vessels can become damaged and create blockages due to the inner vessel’s inability to produce proper blood flow. More women than men have this disorder.
The American Heart Association states the following, “Women may be at risk for coronary MVD if they have lower than normal estrogen levels at any point in their adult lives. Low estrogen levels before menopause can raise younger women’s risk for coronary MVD and can be caused by stress and also a functioning problem with the ovaries.
“Women who have high blood pressure before menopause, especially high systolic blood pressure, are at increased risk for coronary MVD. After menopause, women tend to have more of the traditional risk factors for atherosclerosis, which also puts them at higher risk for coronary MVD.”1
Depression plays a role in both pre and post-heart attacks. For example, stress can lead to high blood pressure, arterial damage and a weakened immune system, which can exacerbate a myocardial infarction. For those individuals that have suffered a heart attack or those that have undergone heart procedures, depression can linger for weeks following their episode. If the condition is not dealt with, it can lead to chronic depression, which will hinder healing and may because additional health issues to arise.
Men and Women can be treated successfully if heart disease is caught early. Usually keeping weight down with a healthy diet, keeping the heart muscle strong and oxygen-rich blood flowing through cardiovascular exercise are helpful, along with medications like ACE inhibitors, alpha-beta blockers, and cholesterol-lipid lowering drugs. In certain situations, stents, angioplasty, bypass grafts, and other procedures may be necessary.
In addition, there are specific diagnostic screenings that your cardiologist can provide to decipher how healthy your heart and arteries are; these include blood tests, stress tests, EKG’s, echocardiograms, holter monitors, vascular ultrasounds, and scans.
If you believe you are having a heart attack or stroke, call 911! If you’re having initial symptoms that come and go, contact your cardiologist immediately.
The Department of Cardiology & Heart Care at Florida Medical Clinic has a full comprehensive heart center to diagnose, treat and monitor their patient’s cardiac health. In general, many individuals are uncertain about which cardiology specialists are best for their specific condition. Florida Medical Clinic details the a few of these differentiating factors.
The Department of Cardiology & Heart Care at Florida Medical Clinic
38135 Market Square
Zephyrhills, FL 33542
1. American Heart Association. Coronary Microvascular Disease: “What is Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD)?” heart.org 2019, Dallas, Tx.