What makes women different when it comes to heart disease?

What makes women different when it comes to heart disease?

What makes women different? Well, they will stop and ask for directions, they frequently care for everyone around them, and when asked a question, they will answer with great detail, whether the individual who posed the question wants such detail or not!

What makes women different in regard to heart disease? It is often said that men read the textbook when they have symptoms of myocardial infraction or “heart attack.” Women do NOT!

The classic description of chest pressure radiating to the left arm or shoulder can happen in women, but more likely the symptoms include right arm pain and jaw pain. Also, women have nausea and vomiting almost twice as often. Interestingly, the nausea and vomiting are often what prompts a female patient to seek care; they tend to tolerate the arm and jaw pain.  Multiple patients have said they took their children to school, did errands, worked part of the day and then decided to check in to the Emergency Department.

Why are we so concerned about symptoms? Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.  Many patients do not understand that one of every four women will die of this disease.  This is incredible; no other disease approaches such dominance.  Another startling statistic (American Heart Association) is that 64% of women who die suddenly of coronary artery disease have no previous symptoms. Wow!

Can women protect themselves? Yes, lifestyle changes are vital including not smoking, getting active, controlling weight and choosing a healthy diet. Many sources are available for additional information. Two of my favorites are WISEWOMAN and Go Red for Women.

So, ladies, continue to stop and ask for directions, but don’t forget to take care of yourselves and realize that heart disease does not discriminate.


Paulette S. Wehner, MD

Dr. Wehner is a board-certified cardiologist with Marshall Health and professor at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, where she also serves as vice dean of graduate medical education.