Many of us probably know that while heart disease is traditionally believed to be something of a male ailment, this disease is the biggest killer of women worldwide. Since this is the case, signs of heart disease in women are vital to watch out for; also because the disease tends to manifest in a different and more subtle way than in the case of men.
When are the first signs of heart disease in women usually seen?
Studies have shown that estrogen tends to offer some significant amount of protection to women’s hearts, so that they have a natural defense system against heart disease during their reproductive years.
However, with the onset of menopause in women, the levels of estrogen naturally decline and the risk of heart disease becomes greater. So while men may be more at risk of heart disease earlier in life, women’s risk for the disease increases later in life.
Problems detecting the signs of heart disease in women
The signs of heart disease could be present for months or even years; however women may not find them acute or significant enough to pay them much attention. Though the presence of heart disease could manifest in the traditional manner – chest and arm pain, tightness of the chest, breathlessness and so on; women could have other non-specific symptoms that they may not recognize as heart disease.
She may display symptoms such as unexplained fatigue or tiredness, nausea, anxiety and a general feeling of being and feeling unwell. When a woman experiences such symptoms she is not automatically going to connect these to heart disease; which is part of the problem of diagnosing female heart disease in time.
Adding to the problem is the fact that signs of heart disease in women are often misdiagnosed by medical and health professionals as well. In one study entitled Subtle and Dangerous: Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women, it was found that even when a woman does seek treatment for her symptoms, the severity of the symptoms are often misinterpreted or underestimated.
The most common, early signs of heart disease in women
Research has found that most women who experienced a heart attack had certain early symptoms; most common among them being difficulty sleeping and uncommon fatigue. The other most commonly reported prodromal (early) symptoms were feelings of anxiety, digestive disturbances and a shortness of breath.
It is significant that fewer than one third of the women reported to actually feeling the chest pain or tightness and discomfort that are traditionally associated with heart disease as early warning signs. Even at the time of the onset of a heart attack, less than half of the women reported to experiencing chest pain.
Research has also shown another problem with heart disease in women – after the signs of heart disease in women appear, there is seen to be a significant delay in seeking treatment. Women could wait 15 minutes to 2 weeks after their symptoms appeared to actually seek treatment. This delay in initiating treatment is a significant problem since a lot of damage to the heart can actually occur during this time.