Knowing the symptoms and risks unique to women
Historically heart disease may be considered by some to be more of a problem for men. However, it’s the most common cause of death for both women and men in the UAE, with a rate as high as 42% of deaths. Because some heart disease symptoms in women can differ from those in men, women may not know what to look for.
Heart attack symptoms
The most common heart attack symptom in women is the same as in men — some type of chest pain, pressure or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes.
But chest pain is not always severe or even the most noticeable symptom, particularly in women. Women often describe heart attack pain as pressure or tightness. And it’s possible to have a heart attack without chest pain.
Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or upper belly (abdomen) discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
- Heartburn (indigestion)
These symptoms may be vague and not as noticeable as the crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. This might be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries but also in the smaller ones that supply blood to the heart — a condition called small vessel heart disease or coronary microvascular disease.
Compared with men, women tend to have symptoms more often when resting, or even when asleep, emotional stress can play a role in triggering heart attack symptoms in women.
Because women’s heart attack symptoms can differ from men’s, women might be diagnosed less often with heart disease than are men. Women are more likely than men to have a heart attack with no severe blockage in an artery (nonobstructive coronary artery disease).
Heart disease risk factors
Several traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — affect both women and men. But other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women.
Heart disease risk factors for women include:
- Diabetes. Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than are men with diabetes. Also, because diabetes can change the way women feel pain, there’s an increased risk of having a silent heart attack — without symptoms.
- Emotional stress and depression. Stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Depression may make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment for other health conditions.
- Smoking. Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than it is in men.
- Inactivity. A lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Menopause. Low levels of estrogen after menopause increase the risk of developing disease in smaller blood vessels.
- Pregnancy complications. High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase the mother’s long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. These conditions also make women more likely to get heart disease.
- Family history of early heart disease. This appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men.
- Inflammatory diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory conditions may increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.
Women of all ages should take heart disease seriously. Women under the age of 65 — especially those with a family history of heart disease — also need to pay close attention to heart disease risk factors.
Now that we understand the heightened risks of cardiology disease in women, let’s look at the contributions and historical innovations that shaped the field of cardiometabolic medicine.
Maude Abbott, MD 1869-1940
A Canadian physician and one of the nation’s earliest female medical graduates, Maude Abbott received her MD degree from Bishop’s University as the only woman in her class. She is best known for inventing the international classification system for congenital heart disease which became the definitive reference guide for the condition and made her the world authority on heart defects.
Helen B. Taussig, MD, FACC 1898-1986
Widely recognized as the founder of pediatric cardiology, Helen B. Taussig graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and went on to head the Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatric unit. In 1941, Dr. Taussig first proposed an operation technique to correct the congenital heart defect responsible for “blue baby” syndrome which was successfully performed in 1944 and shortly thereafter used worldwide. Dr. Taussig was awarded full professorship at Johns Hopkins University as one of the first women in the school’s history. As the founder of the pediatric cardiology subspecialty, Taussig received the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and in 1965, she became the first female president of the American Heart Association.
Myra Adele Logan, MD 1908-1977
Pioneering surgeon Myra Adele Logan was the first woman to perform open-heart surgery and the ninth to do so worldwide. Her myriad of medical and public health accomplishments resulted in her election to the American College of Surgeons as the first African American woman; she was also a founding partner of the first physicians group practice in the United States.
Sharon A. Hunt, MD
Sharon Hunt graduated from the Stanford University School of Medicine as one of seven women in 1967. Throughout the course of her career, Dr. Hunt’s work revolutionized the field of heart transplantation improving survival rates by identifying and treating organ rejection while reducing the side effects of medications. Her 50 years of research, patient care, teaching, and mentorship resulted in her receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation in 2012.
Nanette Kass Wenger, MD 1930-
American clinical cardiologist and professor emerita at Emory University School of Medicine, Nanette Wenger was among the first cardiologists to focus on heart disease in women as well as the risk factors and manifestations of coronary artery disease. For her distinguished contributions to the field, Dr. Wenger was nominated as one of Time magazine’s “Women of the Year” in 1976, received the American Medical Women’s Association’s (AMWA) Woman in Science President’s Award in 1993, as well as the Elizabeth Blackwell Award in 2000.
The female Cardiologists of German Heart Centre
We are proud to have on our team of female experts in the field of cardiology, Dr. Annie Varughese, Specialist Cardiologist, Dr Beate Wild, Specialist General and Interventional Cardiologist, and Dr. Raiza Colodetti, Specialist Cardiologist who are all available for your next appointment. Contact our clinic for more information and scheduling information.