Know the signs and symptoms of heart disease in women

Ask the Experts by Dr. Joan Crawford, DO

Q: I was surprised to learn that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. How are the signs and symptoms different for women than men?

A: You’re not alone. According to an American Heart Association survey, only 45% of U.S. women know that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer. About 400,000 women died from cardiovascular disease in 2016.

The signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease are different in women than in men. While the average man experiences extreme pain in the center of his chest when having a heart attack, 60% of women have vague symptoms that are often ignored or attributed to something else.

Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath and back or jaw pain, dizziness, lightheadedness and exhaustion. A woman may feel pain or pressure below the breast bone and above the belly button, and think she’s having a gallbladder attack, gas or indigestion.

It’s important to see your doctor or go to the ER when you first suspect something is wrong. Some women ignore their symptoms and find out later that they have damage to their heart after having a silent heart attack, weeks or months ago. Unfortunately, the average woman waits 12 hours before calling 911, and often presents with sudden cardiac death.

Be your own advocate. Talk with your doctor about how you are feeling and don’t dismiss your symptoms. Calling 911 sooner than later can save your life.

Dr. Joan Crawford, DO, is the Medical Director for the 2018 Go Red for Women, American Heart Association Greater Detroit Area. She is also the Medical Director of Noninvasive Cardiology and the Faculty Cardiology Fellowship Program at St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital. Dr. Crawford will host a free education session on Women and Heart Disease at the St. John Medical Center-Grosse Pointe on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. Registration is required by calling 866-501-DOCS (3627) then select Option 3. St. John Medical Center is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

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