Aug 16, 2019

Heart Disease: The Difference between Men and Women


People are becoming more aware of heart disease’s dangers, including the fact that it is the number one cause of death in men and women. However, many people do not know that heart disease can look different for men and women. It is important to know the differences experienced by each gender so that you don’t miss potential warning signs and symptoms. These differences also warrant different diagnostic and treatment methods.

Biological Differences

Women and men’s anatomies are unique to their genders, and the cardiovascular system is one of these differences. Women typically have smaller hearts and blood vessels than men do. Because of this, heart disease can present and progress differently in men and women.

Symptom Differences

It is incredibly important for people to be able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack. However, these symptoms can be different for men and women, which means that some symptoms may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed without the proper knowledge.
Women are more likely to have diseases that may look like heart attack symptoms, but are actually due to a different problem. These include coronary spasms in which a blood vessel tightens, coronary dissection which is a torn blood vessel wall, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which is an enlarged heart triggered by emotional stress.
Men typically experience chest pressure or pain as heart attack symptoms.  Women, though, often experience additional symptoms such as pain in the neck, abdomen, or back.  They may also experience nausea and vomiting.

Risk Differences

Women’s risk for heart disease is closely related to their reproductive histories.  If a woman develops health issues like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes while pregnant, she may be more likely to develop heart disease later on.
Women with endometriosis are also more likely to develop heart disease.  Women who experience these health problems should be proactive about living heart-healthy lifestyles in order to prevent heart disease.
Cholesterol buildup is one of the main risks for heart attack. But buildup happens differently for men and women.  In men, cholesterol builds up inside the largest arteries, whereas women tend to experience buildup in the smallest blood vessels of the heart.

Diagnostic Differences

Recently, diagnostic tools have changed in order to be more inclusive of the differences in symptoms presented by women. Previous diagnostic tests looked for blockages in only large arteries. However, this was often insufficient when diagnosing women who may have had a blockage in the smaller arteries. Women may need other tests such as a cardiac MRI or a intravascular ultrasound in order to diagnose heart disease or a heart attack.

Treatment Differences

Treatment for cholesterol buildup in the heart’s largest blood vessels in men is tried and true. More doctors are now learning how to better treat heart problems in women based on their risk and symptom differences. More research is currently being done in order to understand how to best care for and treat women with heart disease and how to better educate women about how to prevent heart disease.

Both Men and Women can be proactive about their heart health

While there are certainly differences between men and women when it comes to heart disease, everyone can make lifestyle choices that will positively influence their heart health and prevent heart disease.
It is important for everyone to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, and to remember that these symptoms may look different for women and men. If you are ever concerned that the symptoms you or someone else is experiencing are heart attack symptoms, seek emergency medical help immediately.

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