Heart problems don't discriminate — men and women are both at risk of developing and dying from them. However, there are a few key differences in how the genders develop heart problems.
First, symptoms present themselves differently in men and women. Take, for example, a heart attack. The most common heart attack symptom (chest pain, pressure, or discomfort) occurs regardless of gender. But for women, the chest pain isn't always severe or even the most noticeable symptom. Women usually describe heart attack pain as pressure or tightness; some don't ever develop chest pain with a heart attack.
Women are also more likely to have other symptoms unrelated to chest pain, including:
These symptoms are less noticeable and easier to ignore than the crushing pain of a heart attack. Women develop these symptoms because they tend to have blockages in the smaller arteries as well as the main arteries.
Additionally, women have more risk factors than men. Emotional stress, menopause, and pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, are heart disease risk factors unique to women.
Because women face different challenges than men, we make discussing, diagnosing, and treating heart disease in women a priority. Dr. Fahmi Farah at Bentley Hart in Fort Worth, Texas, highlights five of the most common heart conditions women face.
CAD is a condition that occurs when your coronary arteries struggle to send enough oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood to your heart muscles. This usually stems from inflammation, cholesterol deposits, or plaque accumulation in the arteries.
Without proper oxygenated blood flow to your heart, you may develop chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and a heart attack or stroke in the most severe cases.
Coronary artery disease typically develops over decades, and symptoms often go unnoticed until there's a significant problem.
A healthy heartbeat is rhythmic, like repetitive pounding on a drum. If you have a heart arrhythmia, your heart beats faster, slower, and in some cases, prematurely. This irregular heartbeat occurs when the electrical signals that coordinate your heartbeat get thrown off, causing your heartbeat to change.
There are two main types of arrhythmias: tachycardia (fast heartbeat) and bradycardia (slow heartbeat). Depending on which you have, you may notice a fluttering in your chest, chest pain, and/or shortness of breath.
Arrhythmias can also bring on other symptoms, such as anxiety, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, sweating, and fainting. Some arrhythmias are harmless and only cause minor, easy-to-manage symptoms. Others trigger more bothersome and potentially life-threatening symptoms.
The human heart has four valves that ensure blood flows in the right direction. In valvular heart disease, the valves don't open or close properly, causing a disruption in blood flow.
Like many other types of heart disease, this type often remains undetected for many years. Some signs you have valvular heart disease may include the following:
We can often catch valvular heart disease simply by listening to your heart with a stethoscope. Valve problems often create a whooshing sound (heart murmur) that's easy to hear.
Heart failure usually develops gradually as the muscles in your heart become weaker and have trouble pumping blood properly. If your heart can't get the nutrition it needs through an adequate blood supply, it starts to fail. CAD is the leading cause of heart failure, but it can also stem from heart valve disease, congenital heart defects, and an irregular heartbeat.
If your heart fails, you'll likely notice shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing, fast or irregular heartbeat, tiredness, confusion, and swelling.
Where heart failure is a threat that develops over many years, heart attacks usually happen suddenly when one of your arteries is totally blocked, and blood flow stops. This can occur when a piece of plaque breaks off and forms a blood clot, preventing proper blood flow. In rare cases, a heart attack can result from a spasm or tear in the coronary artery.
Heart attacks cause pain or pressure in the center of your chest. You might feel as though you're being squeezed, or it may feel like severe heartburn. For some, the pain lasts only a few minutes; for others, the pain comes and goes.
Heart disease is a frightening possibility, but it doesn't have to be an inevitability. As we recognize American Heart Month in February, it’s a good time to call our friendly staff or use our online booking tool to schedule a heart disease consultation and get started with a game plan to shore up your heart health.