Bridging the Gap: Understanding heart disease in women

OK, ladies, this one’s for you.285x427PayalKohli

It’s past time to talk about women and heart disease. The stereotypical image of a man in his 60s having a heart attack, clutching his chest and grabbing his arm, is stereotypical for a reason: That’s the most common scenario for a man having a heart attack.

But a woman’s heart attack looks and feels much different. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the US, claiming one of every three lives. Women are more likely than men to die of a heart attack, and their condition is more likely to go undiagnosed. Further, women wait an average of 54 hours before seeking help for a heart attack, while men wait just 16.

This is what we call the heart attack gender gap.

“We’ve made this gap smaller in the last 10 years, but we have a lot more work to do before it’s bridged,” said Dr. Payal Kohli, Cardiovascular Disease specialist with Good Samaritan Medical Center. “Our success will depend in part on helping women understand their unique risks of developing heart disease and their lesser-known symptoms of heart attack.”

For obvious reasons, women are less likely to recognize these conditions as symptoms of a heart attack, delaying their decision to seek medical help. Women are also less likely to seek help out of fear of creating a fuss or being a bother. It’s a fear that can cost them their lives.

“We need women to know their bodies, be aware of these symptoms and trust their judgment,” Dr. Kohli said. “They never should feel embarrassed to seek out medical help. It’s literally what we’re here for.” Women of all ages and risk levels are encouraged to speak to their physicians about healthy living and optimal heart care. Your heart works hard for you! It needs you to love it back.

Common Heart Attack Symptoms: Women should listen to their bodies and know the signs.

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Exercise intolerance, or an inability to catch your breath
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Jaw or back pain that can range from mild to severe
  • A combination of the above

Common Symptoms: Men and Women

  • Chest discomfort can include feelings of pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain
  • Discomfort in other areas of the body, such as one or both arms, the back, neck jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness


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