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P1215 Women and Heart Disease

THE SYMPTOMS OF HEART DISEASE The symptoms of heart disease can vary with severity. Some people with heart disease have no symptoms, some have episodes of mild chest pain or angina, and some have more severe chest pain. If too little oxygenated blood reaches the heart, a person will experience chest pain called angina. When the blood supply is completely cut off, the result is a heart attack, and the heart muscle begins to die. Some persons may have a heart attack and never recognize the symptoms. This is called a “silent” heart attack. Each year, more than 200,000 women die from heart attacks. For many women, though, a heart attack may feel like a strange discomfort in the back, chest tightness or chest heaviness, or some other easily ignored sign, instead of crushing chest pain. Studies confirm that heart disease may differ in women in ways that doctors may not realize. Heart disease, in some women, doesn’t occur from obvious blockages in arteries as it does in men. Instead, for women, plaque may spread evenly along the artery wall or in the smaller arteries—areas hidden from an angiogram, the standard imaging test that measures blood flow in the big arteries. In women with this problem, which is called coronary microvascular syndrome, blood flow to the heart falls dangerously low. But they don’t often feel the “elephanton the-chest” pain that takes place when large arteries shut down. Instead, they may have subtle symptoms. They may feel pressure or squeezing or shortness of breath. Symptoms may even pop up elsewhere in the body, such as the jaw. (This symptom of jaw pain can also appear in men having a heart attack.) Many women with microvascular disease may continue to have symptoms and become sicker. They may be at an increased risk for heart attack within five years. For many women a heart attack may feel like a strange discomfort in the back, or some other easily ignored sign, instead of crushing chest pain. Is it angina or a heart attack? Angina usually goes away after a few minutes of rest. If you have never had angina before or if the following symptoms last for more than a few minutes, or if they go away and come back, you could be having a heart attack. Call 911 right away! 77 Discomfort, aching, tightness or pressure that comes and goes. This may be in the chest, back, abdomen, arm, shoulder, neck or jaw. 77 Feeling much more tired than usual, for no clear reason. 77 Becoming breathless while doing some activity that used to be easy. 77 Heartburn, nausea or a burning feeling that seems unrelated to food. C H A P T E R 1 6 abcardio.org


P1215 Women and Heart Disease
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