While chest pain, pressure or discomfort is a typical symptom of a heart attack, women also need to watch out for nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath.
Heart disease and stroke continue to be the most dangerous threats to a woman’s health.
Cardiologist and Mayo Clinic Women’s Heart Clinic founder Dr Sharonne N. Hayes says that while women’s heart care has significantly improved in the past 20 years, there is still much to learn about heart disease in women.
“There are conditions that affect women that either don’t affect men, like pregnancy-related heart disease, or that affect women differently, such as heart failure,” she says.
“We’ve just scratched the surface of what we need to know about heart disease.
“Each time we peel back a layer, we realise we need to know more.”
Cardiologist and Mayo Clinic Women’s Heart Clinic director Dr Rekha Mankad says that there are certain factors that put someone at a higher risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol.
However, when it comes to these risks, she notes that there are differences between men and women.
“Hypertension is very common as we all get older, but it’s important to recognise that women have more hypertension as we age.
“It becomes a more prevalent risk factor.
“It doesn’t necessarily act differently in how it makes you at elevated risk for heart disease, although there is an increased risk of stroke and that does play a big role in women as we age because of that very prevalent high blood pressure,” she says.
She adds: “Diabetes has a much bigger difference between men and women.
“A diabetic woman has a greater risk of heart disease compared to a diabetic man.
“So, with everything else being equal, if you have diabetes and you’re female, that risk is higher than if you have diabetes and you’re a male.”
Dr Mankad says that’s similar to smoking as a female smoker has a higher risk than a male smoker.
In addition to the traditional risk factors for heart disease, women also have non-traditional risk factors, such as pregnancy-related risks.
Both men and women have a wide range of symptoms for a heart attack.
Knowing what they are and when to call emergency services is something Dr Hayes continues to stress to her patients.
“(Symptoms may include) any time there’s chest pressure, pain or discomfort in the chest – it may be in the jaw, radiate to the back or go up to the neck – shortness of breath, as well as cold sweats.
“For women in particular, nausea and vomiting, or shortness of breath – all of those should signal a need to get emergency help.”