While many people think otherwise, heart disease is no more of a disease that only affects men than breast cancer is a disease that only affects women. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, more women die from coronary heart disease each year than men. Part of this is a lack of awareness about the dangers of heart disease in women and part of this is that the symptoms that act as warning signs are different in women than they are in men. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most people aren’t aware of the subtle differences between the various forms of coronary heart disease and simply relegate all of heart disease to heart attacks. If you are a woman, the best way to reduce the danger of heart disease is to familiarize yourself with the followings signs and symptoms that your health may be in danger.
Coronary Heart Disease – Coronary heart disease (CHD), or coronary artery disease, as it is also known, occurs when a waxy substance builds up in your arteries and prevents blood and oxygen flow to the heart. The most common symptom in men is angina, which is a tightness or pressure in the chest. In women, though, angina is less common and when it does occur it is almost always accompanied by similar aches in the arms, neck, jaw, and back. These are more distinctive symptoms than standard angina, which can easily be mistaken for heartburn, and women who feel these symptoms should contact a doctor immediately. Unfortunately, while these signs are clear, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, women are also susceptible to silent CHD which has absolutely no symptoms. The best way to identify that is to recognize the symptoms of one of the following heart disease complications.
Arrhythmia – Arrhythmia is the fluttering or thumping of a heart moving too fast or too slow. If you feel like you just ran a race while performing light or no activities, this is almost certainly a clear sign of a problem. Similarly, according to WebMD, fainting, weakness, and heavy fatigue are all possible symptoms as well.
Heart Attack – Popular media almost always portrays a heart attack as starting with pain in the left arm. This is likely true for men, but not useful for identifying a heart attack in most women. In women, neck pain, vomiting, extreme fatigue, problems breathing are signs to pay attention to. The former three are also commonly associated with the menstrual cycle, but if you are suffering these at times that don’t coincide with that cycle, you should see a doctor. If you are lucky, you just have the flu, but if not, then at least your doctor can help you prevent the actual onset of an attack.
Heart Failure – Compared to other heart problems, heart failure has some rather distinctive signs in women. The most notable of these signs are a sudden rapid weight gain and a cough that produces white sputum. The latter is immediately recognizable though you may not notice the former unless you regularly weigh yourself. But if you are experiencing any of the other common symptoms, including weakness, shortness of breath, and swelling in the legs and ankles, you should start weighing yourself regularly. If your weight suddenly increases by more than a pound in a single day, advise your doctor as soon as possible.
Pericarditis – The Mayo Clinic classifies pericarditis as one of three possible similar heart infections. While some of the symptoms are similar, many symptoms are drastically different for this infection than other heart problems. The most common signs are sharp radiating pain in the chest and nearby areas, fever, rashes, and increased heart rate. On its own pericarditis is not that dangerous, but it can trigger a heart attack if left untreated and some forms are contagious. Luckily these warning signs are so different from most other heart symptoms that your doctor should be able to diagnose you quickly. If you do have pericarditis, you should probably also test for silent CHD just in case.