Heart Disease in Women: Why It’s So Often Missed or Dismissed

By Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum | Posted Oct 11, 2022

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, yet it’s often thought of as a man’s disease. In part, this is because heart disease presents differently in women than it does in men. Women are more likely to experience symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and nausea rather than the chest pain that is more commonly associated with heart disease in men. As a result, cardiovascular disease in women is often dismissed by both patients and doctors alike.

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What are the consequences of undiagnosed heart disease?

While chest pain is still the most common symptom of heart disease overall, women are more likely to experience what’s known as atypical symptoms. These can include shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, upper back pain, and jaw pain. Because these symptoms are less likely to be associated with heart disease, they’re often chalked up to stress or anxiety and ignored.

This can have serious consequences. Women who don’t receive an accurate diagnosis may not receive the treatment they need to prevent a heart attack or other cardiovascular events. And even when women do receive a diagnosis, they’re less likely to receive aggressive treatment than their male counterparts. This is particularly true for older women, who are often told that their symptoms are simply due to aging.

How to advocate for yourself.

If you think you might be at risk for heart disease, it’s important to advocate for yourself. Be sure to mention any atypical symptoms you’re experiencing to your doctor so that your medical team can properly investigate. It’s also important to know your family history and share that information with your doctor. Women with a family history of heart disease are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Thus, they need to be extra vigilant about monitoring their cardiovascular health.

Heart disease is a serious problem for women in the United States. It often presents differently in women than in men. Unfortunately, this means that both doctors and patients often miss or dismiss it. This can have serious consequences, including delayed or inaccurate diagnosis and treatment. If you think you might be at risk for heart disease, speak to your healthcare provider. It’s important to advocate for yourself and ensure your doctor knows all your symptoms and risk factors.