Heart disease occurs when fatty build-up in your coronary arteries, called plaque, prevents blood flow that’s needed to provide oxygen to your heart muscle.
As heart disease progresses, you may have tightness, pressure or discomfort in your chest during physical activity or when stressed. But it goes away shortly after you stop the activity or get rid of the stress.
Angina symptoms in women can also include feeling out of breath, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or sharp chest pain. Once the extra demand for blood and oxygen stops, so do the symptoms.
So why would angina symptoms be different in women and men?
Heart disease in men is more often due to blockages in their coronary arteries, referred to as obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD). Women more frequently develop heart disease within the very small arteries that branch out from the coronary arteries. This is referred to as microvascular disease (MVD) and occurs particularly in younger women. Up to 50 percent of women with anginal symptoms who undergo cardiac catheterization don’t have the obstructive type of CAD.
“When women are sick, they tend to ignore it,” said Jennifer Mieres, M.D., a cardiologist and professor of cardiology and population health at the Northshore LIJ Health System in New York. “We need to put the fact that we’re vulnerable to heart disease on our radar screen and recognize the signs.”
Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, affecting one out of every three in the United States. Nearly half of African-American women have cardiovascular disease.
Recognize the Signs, Seek Medical Treatment
Recognizing the signs and seeking treatment is the first step. Understanding your risk factors, such as a family history, is also important to staying in tune with changes in your health.
“Women need to understand their risks,” Dr. Mieres said. “Eighty percent of heart disease is preventable.”
Learn more about heart disease: