Dr. Maria Lathi is a board certified cardiologist with Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart Cardiology Destin.

What women should know about heart disease

Dr. Maria Lahti, cardiologist at Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart Cardiology Destin in Destin, Florida answers common questions about heart disease.

Dr. Maria Lathi is a board certified cardiologist with Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart Cardiology Destin. 


Not all heart disease symptoms are created equal. Dr. Maria Lahti, cardiologist at Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart Cardiology Destin in Destin, Florida, addresses how heart disease can vary among men and women. 

How do heart attacks present differently in women? What are the signs of heart attack in women?

The initial heart attack symptom for women is very similar to men in that it's an uncomfortable pressure, tightness and/or squeezing type of pain or discomfort in the center of your chest. This generally lasts more than a few minutes, but can go away and come back as well. In addition, women are much more likely to present with associated symptoms like having discomfort in the arms, in the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Women are also more likely to present with shortness of breath, either accompanying the chest comfort or without. Additional symptoms can include; breaking out in a cold sweat, lightheadedness and/or nausea.

What is a silent heart attack? 

Silent heart attack explained

A silent heart attack can occur without symptoms. It is caused when the flow of blood is blocked in the coronary arteries from plaque build up. However, in general, it's a heart attack that occurs with minimal symptoms or previously, unrecognized symptoms, like indigestion. It may feel as if the individual had the flu or strained a muscle in their chest or upper back. Silent heart attack is more common in women than it is in men.

Risk factors

Silent heart attacks are more common in women and diabetics. But general risk factors for all heart attacks include; diabetes, hypertension or high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking and a strong family history.

Some of these risk factors can be reduced with lifestyle changes. It is recommended that adults get 150 minutes of physical activity weekly. You should also reduce the amount of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and salt in your diet. Another thing you can do is to reduce your alcohol intake to now more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks daily for men. Quitting smoking can also reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attack.

What are some common myths about heart disease and women? 

Heart disease is a man’s disease

One myth is that heart disease is a man's disease and it just distinctly is not. One in three deaths in women occurs from heart disease. Research shows that only about half of the US recognize heart disease as their number one killer. About 1 in 16 women age 20 and older have coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease in the United States.

I’m too young for a heart attack

Another myth that's common is that I'm too young for a heart attack. Heart disease is the number one cause for death in young mothers. Again it's the leading cause of death in women and it can happen at any age. 

Heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined

With good reason, there's much talk about breast cancer and other cancers directly related to women. So some women feel that cancer is the real issue but again, heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined. So that's a very common myth.

What to do if you are having heart attack symptoms

Call 911 or get ER care for heart attack symptoms. ERs at Ascension hospitals are open 24/7. 

Find a doctor who listens

Your heart care is important. To deliver personalized care, your cardiologist at Ascension Sacred Heart starts by listening to understand you, your health history and your goals. We take the time to answer all your questions — big and small. Remember to tell your doctor how you are feeling at each visit. By getting to know you, we deliver heart care that’s right for you. To find a heart doctor visit ascension.org/PensacolaHeart.