Women's Health Week - Understating Heart Disease Symptoms

Women of all ages should ask their health-care provider three questions at their next appointment, says Anne G. Rosenfeld, PhD, RN, FAHA, FAAN, professor and cardiovascular nurse-scientist at the University of Arizona College of Nursing.
1. What is my risk for heart disease?
2. I’ve been having these symptoms; what do they mean?
3. How do I keep myself heart healthy at this stage in my life?
“Due to a number of factors, including lack of awareness, often women fail to recognize their symptoms as heart disease. Women frequently delay seeking help, and when they do inform providers of heart disease symptoms, they report difficulty receiving a correct diagnosis because health-care professionals also don’t recognize their symptoms as heart disease”, said Dr. Rosenfeld, vice chair of the American Heart Association writing group that recently published the statement, Preventing and Experiencing Ischemic Heart Disease as a Woman: State of the Science.
“By and large women don’t say, ‘I have chest pain;’ they say ‘I have chest discomfort.’ However, if a clinician is listening for ‘pain’ and they hear ‘discomfort,’ they may not suspect heart disease initially,” said Dr. Rosenfeld. “Instead, women should say, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack. These are unlike symptoms I’ve had before.’”
Promoting awareness among minority women is particularly important. African American women have a higher prevalence rate of heart disease (7 percent) compared to Hispanic women (5.9 percent) and white women (4.6 percent). However, compared to 65 percent of white women, only 36 percent of African American women and 34 percent of Hispanic women are aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women.
Additionally, the death rate from heart disease for younger women ages 35-44, while low, is continuing to increase while decreasing in their male counterparts of the same age. Since 80 percent of heart disease is preventable, the authors of the statement stress that educating women about their risk factors should start as early as childhood.
Click here for more information on National Women's Health Week.