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Heart Disease in Men vs. Women: What You Need to Know

December 4, 2022
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Though often considered a male condition, men and women in the United States suffer equally from heart disease. It is the country’s leading killer for both genders. At the same time, heart disease in women can manifest differently than heart disease symptoms in men. By understanding these symptomatic differences, people suffering from this serious ailment can better obtain necessary professional medical assistance. Here, Richmond University Medical Center explains what heart disease is, what it looks like in women versus men, and the risk factors to avoid.

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease (CVD), is an umbrella term that commonly refers to four main types of heart and vascular conditions, including:

  • Stroke
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Aortic disease

These diseases are the result of a lack of blood and oxygen flow to organs and critical areas of the body. If blood oxygen flow is obstructed at a certain degree for a critical amount of time, a deadly heart attack, heart failure, or arrhythmia (rapid heart palpitations) can occur.

What Are Heart Disease Symptoms in Men and Women?

Though heart disease affects men and women, it can manifest differently between the two genders. Men often experience heart disease via a heart attack, which includes symptoms such as intense chest pressure and pain in the left arm. While most women also describe these two symptoms, they also note experiencing:

  • Vomiting
  • Pain and pressure in the neck, jaw, throat, arm, upper abdomen, and upper back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Indigestion or bloated abdomen sensation

Medical studies indicate these differences arise out of various factors, including:

Biological Differences in Cardiovascular System

Women’s hearts are generally smaller and have narrower veins and arteries than men’s. This factor can cause heart disease to develop and manifest differently across genders.

Plaque Buildup Differences

Heart attacks, which are a leading result of heart disease, occur mainly because of hardened plaque accumulation along blood vessel walls. Men experience this buildup in the body’s largest arteries, while women experience them in the heart’s smallest microvasculature bundles. This cholesterol conglomeration variation may contribute to heart disease and attack differences between men and women.

Heart Attack Misdiagnosis

Sometimes ailments more frequently experienced by women are misdiagnosed as heart attacks and mistreated. These conditions can include:

  • Coronary spasm: This condition occurs when arterial wall muscles spasm, sending a rush of blood to the heart.
  • Coronary dissection: A coronary dissection is an emergency when blood vessels in the heart are torn.
  • Takotsubo cardiomyopathy: This ailment is mainly due to severe stress, which weakens the heart’s pumping capability and can dangerously enlarge the heart.

What Are the Different Heart Disease Risk Factors?

Many factors can contribute to women and men developing heart disease. Risk factors that affect both men and women include:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history

Other factors are limited to women and are shown to increase their risk of developing heart disease. These additional elements include:

Reproductive Health

During maternity, many women experience preeclampsia, potentially causing high blood pressure, liver damage, and severe headaches. This disease and gestational diabetes that also occurs during pregnancy may increase a woman’s risk for developing heart disease later in life. Additionally, in women with endometriosis, the abnormal growth of uterine cells outside the uterus is more prone to heart disease.

Autoimmune Diseases

Certain autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis are experienced more frequently in women than men. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its healthy cells and can cause significant joint inflammation. This can result in organ damage, including in the heart and lungs. These chronic medical factors can contribute to the onset of heart disease.

Additionally, women may experience increased hypertension during menopause and depression, which can contribute to developing heart disease.

Learn More About Heart Health at Richmond University Medical Center

Although men and women experience several similar symptoms of heart disease, there are key differences. Knowing the signs and symptoms unique to women could save lives. The award-winning medical staff at Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island, New York, includes cardiology physicians who can help patients understand these differences and answer any questions regarding heart disease in women and heart disease symptoms in men. Contact us today for more information and to discuss your heart health with our experienced team.