Heart disease has traditionally been thought of as a man’s disease, and in fact, it’s the leading cause of death among American men. But guess what? It’s also the leading cause of death among American women — even though many women don’t realize they’re at risk. 

With locations in Orlando, Sebring, and Davenport, Florida, Vein & Cardiovascular Center provides comprehensive heart disease treatment and prevention to help women understand and reduce their personal risks for heart disease. 

Ashish Pal, MD, has extensive experience diagnosing and treating heart disease in women, so you can get the right care for your unique needs. Since February is American Heart Month, we’ve put together a quick review of some of the facts about women’s heart disease to help you educate yourself and the women in your life.

Awareness is lacking

About 300,000 American women die each year from heart disease, making it the leading cause of death among women in the United States. 

What’s more, more than a third of women are living with some type of cardiovascular disease, and over 6% ages 20 and older have coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease. 

Despite those high numbers, only slightly more than half of women know heart disease is a serious risk for them. The American Heart Association devotes an entire initiative — Go Red for Women — to advancing awareness, research, and treatment of heart disease in women.

Women have different symptoms

Most of us probably think of a heart attack as crushing pain in the left side of the chest. But women may experience other symptoms, including: 

  • Pain in the jaw, shoulder, neck, arms, or upper back
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Severe fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Excessive sweating

Because many of these symptoms aren’t readily recognized as heart attack signs, that means some heart attacks can be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed and treated as quickly as those associated with severe chest pain.

Heart disease can also cause different symptoms in women. Some of the more common symptoms are:

  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heartburn
  • Wheezing and coughing

Many of these symptoms are shared with other problems. Regular cardiovascular checkups are important to rule out other problems so we can determine if you’re suffering from an early stage of heart disease.

Women have different risk factors

Yes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity all increase your risk for heart disease, just as they do with men. But other factors tend to be more important for women, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Family history of heart disease, especially at a younger age

Menopause and hormonal changes can also significantly increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease and having a heart attack. 

Inflammatory conditions, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can also increase the risk for heart disease, and many of these conditions tend to be more common among women than men.

Early diagnosis is key

At Vein & Cardiovascular Center, our team is skilled in diagnosing and treating heart disease in women. In addition to regular diagnostic testing, we offer cardiopulmonary exercise tests to pinpoint the cause of symptoms and tailor care and treatment to each woman’s unique needs. 

Because heart disease symptoms can be subtle in women, routine cardiovascular assessments are critical to maintaining heart health and preventing heart attacks and other complications. 

Whether or not you have a history of heart disease, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to have your cardiovascular health evaluated on a regular basis. To schedule a consultation, call the office nearest you or request an appointment online

And if you’re having any symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away.

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