Not all heart disease symptoms are created equal. Dr. Shailee Shah, cardiologist at Ascension Medical Group St. Vincent’s Women’s Heart and Prevention Clinic in Saint Johns, Florida, addresses how heart disease can vary among men and women.
How do heart attacks present differently in women?
Heart disease in women presents actually in multiple different ways compared to men. It's not the typical chest pain. It's heartburn. Some people just feel tired and as women we have a thousand reasons to be tired. Other women go to their doctor and tell them they are taking antacids for reflux and find that they actually have a blockage that is causing the symptoms. In other cases, women may think that they are short of breath because they are deconditioned and don’t work out but that should be a cause to make an appointment with your primary care doctor or cardiologist because it can mean you have a blockage. Women can often have many explanations for their symptoms such as stress and anxiety associated with taking care of their family. Those justifications can lead to delays in important care.
What are the signs of heart attack in women?
The signs of heart attack in women can vary. Some women experience typical chest pain and feeling short of breath. Others have arm pain, jaw pain and feel like they are having acid reflux or indigestion. These are the most common symptoms. Other symptoms such as dizziness can be a sign of a heart attack. After having a baby, women may present very differently as well.
Call 911 or get ER care for heart attack symptoms. ERs at Ascension hospitals are open 24/7.
What is a silent heart attack?
Silent heart attack is when you have symptoms that you don’t know are associated with a heart attack and you go to the hospital thinking you are having some other type of issue. Then later the doctor treating you tells you that you are having a heart attack.
One example is a 48-year-old woman I treated that thought she was having some GI issues, possibly gallstones or a gallbladder problem. After we talked, I found out she had a family history of heart problems. The EKG and troponin test came back positive for a heart attack. We then found out that she had a blockage and the right side. She was treated with a heart catheterization. A heart catheterization opens blocked coronary arteries to restore blood flow.
What are some common myths about heart disease and women?
There are many common myths about heart diseases. Some I hear often are I don’t have any risk factors, I’m active and can do my daily activities and I don’t have typical symptoms so it cannot happen to me. This is why it is important to get annual heart screenings including lipid panels and preventative check-ups. Heart disease can happen to anyone regardless of their age, weight or cholesterol levels.
What should pregnant women and new moms be aware of about heart health?
Women who have high blood pressure or diabetes either before or during pregnancy have a higher risk for heart events in the future. This also applies to new moms who had their baby or babies early. If you have any of these risk factors, you should either make an appointment with your primary care doctor or cardiologist within six to 12 months after your child is born. If you are having symptoms of heart disease, you should make an appointment sooner.
Find a doctor who listens
Your heart care is important. To deliver personalized care, your cardiologist at Ascension St. Vincent’s 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/JaxHeart.
Dr. Shailee Shah is a board certified cardiologist with Ascension Medical Group St. Vincent’s Women’s Heart and Prevention Clinic in Saint Johns.