Subash B. Bazaz, MD, FACC is a board certified cardiologist specializing in general and nuclear cardiology. He is the Director of non-invasive studies at Inova Heart and Vascular Institute – Schaufeld Family Heart Center at Inova Loudoun Hospital and a part of the Virginia Heart group.
February has popularly become known has “Heart Month.” While we don’t get a day off from work or school, this distinction is important. It reminds us to step back from our busy routines and assess where we stand in understanding this very important part of our body.
Every year, medical experts learn more about the heart and circulatory system. Yet we still have a ways to go before we solve its many mysteries. As healthcare professionals, it is important that we educate our patients and our community about the latest developments so they can make better decisions about their health.
Not just a “man’s disease”
For too long, heart disease was mainly seen as a man’s disease and was mostly studied in male subjects. We now know that heart disease kills more women than any other disease process, including cancer. One in four women will die from some form of heart disease – and many more will have to deal with heart disease as they age. Therefore, the impact of heart disease on women has become an intense subject of research. Women’s symptoms of heart disease do not always match that of their male counterparts, and the types of heart disease that affect women can differ from the types more often experienced by men.
Heart attack symptoms in women: Don’t wait to seek medical attention
When a female patient experiences a heart attack, she may experience the classic symptoms of crushing or burning chest pressure, which conjure images of an elephant stepping on someone’s chest. However, often women’s symptoms can be more subtle – such as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, as well as pain in indirect areas such as in the neck, arms, or jaw. As a result, women often delay seeking medical attention – limiting treatment options once heart damage is done.
Heart failure in women
Congestive heart failure becomes more common as women get older and can present with symptoms such as shortness of breath, swelling in the legs or even the abdomen, weight gain, and coughing at night while lying down. Often, these symptoms are mistakenly attributed to asthma, pneumonia, or weight gain. Proper recognition of congestive heart failure can lead to treatment with medications and improvement in symptoms.
Racing heart or feeling anxious? Women’s heart rhythm disorders
Heart rhythm disorders, such as atrial fibrillation, are also common in women and typically present with a racing heart beat sensation in the chest. For some women, symptoms might not be so clear. Instead, they’ll feel anxious, short of breath, or dizzy when the heart is beating too fast. Such symptoms can delay diagnosis and necessary treatments.
Women: Don’t wait to get your heart checked out
If you feel are having symptoms of heart disease – whether it be chest pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness, or other symptoms as described above – you should seek medical attention right away. Early recognition of heart disease often leads to better treatment options and outcomes. Use Heart Month as an opportunity to discuss heart disease recognition and prevention with your healthcare provider.