It's time to pay more attention to heart attacks in women

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When it comes to heart attacks, men seem to get the attention. We discuss men’s risk factors. Men’s symptoms. Even research and treatment conversations revolve around the male heart.

But cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death for women. 

As a result, the unique symptoms women often encounter when facing heart disease can go unrecognized by both patients and doctors.

Women's cardiovascular symptoms are different

Women tend to under-recognize or ignore their heart attack symptoms. Though they can experience the classic symptom of chest pain, they can also experience a range of what might be characterized as atypical symptoms, including:

  • Palpitations or a fluttering sensation in the chest
  • Pain in the back, shoulder or jaw
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Indigestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms

Studies show that it’s much more common for women to put off seeing their doctor when experiencing heart attack symptoms because they often feel their symptoms are temporary or not urgent. What's more, there's growing evidence that emotional stress and depression contribute to the onset of heart disease in women.

“Women are great at making sure their partners take their medications, get to cardiac rehab appointments, eat healthier and see their doctor. Unfortunately, many women don’t make their own health a priority, and it’s time for the medical community to help change that,” says Laxmi Mehta, MD, the director of the Women's Cardiovascular Health program at Ohio State.

Women-focused science is the missing piece

According to Dr. Mehta, today's doctors have a better understanding of how heart disease affects women. But there's still more work to do. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve learned that heart attacks in women are significantly different than in men,” Dr. Mehta explains. “In the past, most of the research has been done with men, which is why we need more science that focuses specifically on women.

In fact, Dr. Mehta recently chaired a group of the American Heart Association that issued a statement about the need for more woman-focused science.

“It’s not clear why women have different causes and symptoms of heart attacks,” Dr. Mehta says. “It may be because women are more complex and there are more biological variables that affect women, such as hormonal fluctuations. That’s why more research is still needed.”

If you have questions about your own health, the women's heart experts at Ohio State are always ready to help.

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