Published on June 14, 2016

Heart disease: What every woman needs to know

You’ve heard the expression knowledge is power.

Well, when it comes to women and heart disease, nothing could be truer. The more you know, the better your chance of avoiding a possibly deadly heart attack.

Woman clutching chestSo here’s fact No. 1: Heart disease is the leading killer of women nationwide. About one woman dies from it every minute.

Here’s another crucial fact: “Heart disease in women can be different than in men,” says Jammie Menetrey, DO, a female Cardiologist joining Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital this summer. And one key difference is heart attack symptoms.

Women, like men, may experience some type of chest pain. “But women are more likely to have symptoms unrelated to chest pain—and not realize they’re having a heart attack,” Dr. Menetrey says.

Those symptoms include:

  • Discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, back or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unusual fatigue

Still another difference is risk factors. Some—like obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol—are an equal threat to both sexes’ hearts. But others affect women more. Diabetes, for example, makes women far more prone to heart disease than it does men. So does emotional stress.

Protect your heart “So my message to women: Take heart disease seriously,” Dr. Menetrey urges.

Even if you’re a young woman without symptoms, ask your doctor about your heart disease risk—and how to stay healthy. If you’re at high risk, a full range of diagnostic tests are available at Mercy Fitzgerald, including EKGs, stress tests and heart ultrasounds.

And, finally, if there’s any chance you’re having a heart attack—even if you’re not sure—call 911 right away. Never second-guess yourself.