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Straight Talk About Heart Disease

Some Not So Fun Facts

Women, did you know?

  • heart disease kills more people than all cancers combined
  • more women than men die from a first heart attack
  • we are less likely to get the treatment we need for heart disease than men
  • women of color are at higher risk of developing heart disease and receiving inadequate treatment than Caucasian women
  • women may have different symptoms than men and may not recognize a cardiac problem when it occurs

We Are Not Just Smaller Versions of Men

As we age, women are as likely as men to develop heart disease. Unfortunately, most of the medical information is based on studies done primarily on men. Treatment options are based on how men respond to them but women often do not have the same response as men to treatment. We are not just smaller versions of men. We are very different physiologically and therefore may find that treatment options don’t work for us the same way.

Women are also more likely to die from their first heart attack than men are. This is for a few reasons. First, the symptoms may be vague or may resemble another condition like indigestion, stress, fatigue, to name a few. Studies show that many women who suffer heart attacks had no prior symptoms.

Minority women are at even higher risk than Caucasian women, also for a few reasons. If they live in an economically challenged environment, they may have little to no access to quality healthcare. If they are the sole caregiver to their family, they may ignore symptoms until it’s too late. Their risk factors are often higher also due to cultural norms such as traditional food choices and larger body types.

Because women often do not have the classic heart attack symptoms we have come to expect like extreme pressure or pain in the chest, jaw, and/or arm, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, and loss of consciousness, a cardiac event is often mischaracterized as something else by not only the patient but also the medical community. If a young, fit woman shows up in the ER presenting with symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, vague pressure, or pain in the upper body, she will very possibly be sent home with a prescription for anti-anxiety meds or told to minimize the stress in her life. The result of such treatment may well be fatal.

I Can’t Share These Symptoms Enough

Some of the symptoms women should be aware of are:

  • extreme, unexplained fatigue
  • unexplained nausea or vomiting
  • pain between the shoulder blades
  • burning or tingling across the upper chest
  • pain or heaviness in either arm
  • jaw pain or pressure
  • dizziness or disorientation
  • slurred speech

The Bottom Line

One thing is for certain. We must all be able to advocate for ourselves or have someone advocate on our behalf. If you feel like your doctor isn’t listening to you, get another doctor. The medical community has been classically trained on the male model of the cardiac patient. We need to be part of the conversation and we also need to be included in the clinical trials. They don’t even use female mice when they perform the testing because the males are less expensive and they keep the females for reproduction.

The bottom line is…know your body and if you think something is wrong, it probably is. Do not allow yourself to be dismissed. You deserve to be heard and taken seriously. Your life may depend on it.

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  1. Victoria Juster on February 9, 2022 at 11:45 am

    Good info, Karen! The more aware that we are, the better we can take care of ourselves. Thank you!

    • Karen on February 9, 2022 at 7:56 pm

      Yes, I believe in this case, knowledge is power. When we know what needs to be done, we can either do it or ignore it. Either way, we can decide how to proceed.

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