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Women and heart disease: It’s not just a man’s problem

Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes are listed as some of the leading causes of death in women across the globe. But in the United States, the number one killer of women may come as a shock: heart disease.

Heart disease has long been associated as a man’s condition, but this is one of many misconceptions surrounding women and heart disease — and it turns out it affects women differently than men.

Women with heart disease often don’t exhibit the classic symptoms that men do, such as chest pains, shortness of breath and feeling ill after overexertion. Women are also more likely to suffer what is called a "silent heart attack," a temporary blockage that can damage the heart — sometimes while they’re resting or asleep.

During a "silent heart attack," women may experience discomfort in their shoulder blades or pain in their abdomen that can sometimes be mistaken as an ulcer.

Heart attack symptoms in women vs. men

Women may experience classic symtpoms but often milder:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Nausea, vomiting or dizziness
  • Back or jaw pain
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue
  • Palpitations, cold sweats or paleness
  • Mild, flu-like symptoms

Women most often report emotional stress prior to heart attacks.

Men often, but not always, experience classic symptoms:

  • Pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that goes away and comes back
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath

Men most often report physical exertion prior to heart attacks.

Are you at risk?

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