Heart disease is a man’s disease, right? Wrong. Women are more likely to die of heart disease than men.
Breast cancer should be my biggest health concern, right? Sorry, no. Women are much more likely to develop heart disease than breast cancer.
Perhaps even more surprising: nearly two-thirds of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. They were likely unaware that they had a problem.
Heart disease is a woman’s issue. It is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the U.S., accounting for one of every four deaths in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet many women don’t realize they are at risk.
Women can have many of the same risk factors as men (such as high cholesterol), but they can also be at risk due to a number of gender-specific conditions, such as falling estrogen levels and a history of preeclampsia.
Complicating matters further, women’s heart attack symptoms often are very different from those seen in men. Failing to recognize these atypical symptoms can lead to crucial delays in diagnosis and treatment.
“Women often try to tough it out,” says Syed N. Ahmed, M.D., a cardiologist with Sutter Gould Medical Foundation. “They tend to think their symptoms are caused by something other than a heart attack. Their doctors also don’t always recognize heart attacks. It all leads to worse outcomes for women.”
What can you do to protect yourself? Know your personal heart disease risk factors and get familiar with the heart attack symptoms seen in women. Talk with your doctor about what you can do to improve your health. And if you do experience symptoms, speak up. “Get your questions answered,” Dr. Ahmed says.