By: Dr. Carolyn A. Burns
The term heart disease is a broad term that may refer to a number of different ailments, including issues with the heart’s electrical system, valve system, or its pumping ability. Generally speaking, however, “heart disease” is most often referring to coronary artery disease (CAD). In cases of coronary artery disease, there are blockages in the arteries that supply oxygen to your heart.
Let’s take a look at some of the important distinctions in heart disease risk factors and symptoms for women.
Some risk factors for heart disease in men are the same as they are for women. Smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and family history are major risk factors for heart disease in both genders. The difference is that some of these factors affect women to a greater degree. Women with diabetes have a much higher risk of heart disease, as do those who smoke.
Separate from those risk factors that men and women share, there are some factors that are very different for men and women. Women are much more prone to metabolic syndrome, which increases your risk for CAD. The hormonal changes in menopausal and post-menopausal women as well as in pregnancy, may adversely impact heart health. In cases of the former, a loss of estrogen may negatively affect the small blood vessels.
Men and women also experience different symptoms of heart disease. While men are more likely to complain of pressure in their chests, women often experience symptoms that are typically more vague– symptoms such as jaw pain, back pain, nausea, sweating, marked fatigue, vomiting, dizziness, and others. Women are also more affected by mental stresses and depression. Because all of these issues can be caused by many different reasons, heart disease in women is often harder to diagnose.
If you are experiencing vague but atypical symptoms like the ones listed above, it’s important not to be immediately dismissive of your discomfort. Additionally, if you’re already at a higher risk for heart disease due to your specific risk factors, it is important to pay careful attention to your body. I also suggest keeping track of your numbers, especially your blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, and even waist circumference.
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Published June 14, 2019