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Spring 2004

Symptoms of Heart Disease Differ in Women and Men

Heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States—claiming 10 times more lives than breast cancer. Nationally, 8 million women live with the disease and 400,000 die of it each year.

 “Many women assume they are protected against heart disease,” says Raluca Arimie, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. “Even physicians tend to see this as a disease affecting men and may be less aggressive in addressing heart disease risk factors in their female patients.”

Women often delay seeking help because heart disease symptoms in women may differ from men.

“Women experience chest pain, but it’s less likely to be described as a squeezingpressure pain,” says Helga Van Herle, M.D., cardiologist at UCLA Medical Center. “Often women describe a ‘burning,’ or an ‘upper abdominal fullness’ rather than central chest pain. Sometimes the pain isn’t in the chest; it’s in the arm, the stomach, the back, or the jaw. Women might feel symptoms of shortness of breath or anxiety rather than pain. And many women don’t think these symptoms are important enough to tell someone.”

Risk factors for heart disease in men and women include smoking, advanced age, diabetes, hypertension, poor cholesteral profile, and obesity. “The message is that ‘time is heart muscle’ —if you delay getting treated, a lot of the damage may already be done,” Dr. Van Herle says.

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