Heart disease kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer in the UK every year, and it was the single biggest killer of women worldwide in 2019.
However, despite this, it’s often considered a man’s disease.
“There are more than 800,000 women in the UK living with CHD [coronary heart disease], which is the main cause of heart attacks,” says the British Heart Foundation.
“Each year more than 30,000 women are admitted to hospital in the UK due to a heart attack.”
One of the biggest problem lies in the early warning symptoms which many are not aware differ between men and women.
Heart disease symptoms in women
When diagnostic tests for the heart were first created, scientists at the time did not fully consider that no two bodies are the same, especially between the sexes.
According to University of Florida College of Nursing associate professor Jenifer Dungan, many of the current symptom profiles and lab tests for heart disease do not accurately reflect known differences in women’s heart disease.
This oversight has led to increased gaps in health care equity.
“Because of this disparity, women are more likely than men to report heart disease symptoms that appear out of the norm, experience delayed treatment for heart disease and even have undiagnosed heart attacks,” Dungan said.
Women can develop symptoms that are subtler and harder to detect as a heart attack, especially if the physician is only looking for the “usual” heart attack symptoms.
“For reasons that remain uncertain, women can experience heart disease differently than men. This can lead to inequities for women that need to be addressed.”
Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, particularly from men to women.
“Women are much more likely to have atypical heart attack symptoms,” added doctor Lili Barouch, director of the Johns Hopkins Columbia Heart Failure Clinic.
“So, while the classical symptoms, such as chest pains, apply to both men and women, women are much more likely to get fewer common symptoms.”
According to Dr Barouch these symptoms can include:
- Night sweats
- Back pain
As you get older it is increasingly important to be aware of the factors that can affect your risk of developing heart disease.
Identifying and managing risk factors early on could help lower your risk of a heart attack in the future.
These risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Not doing enough exercise.