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Dr. Barouch’s areas of expertise include peripartum cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. Learn more about Dr. Barouch.
A significant challenge for diagnosing women with heart disease is the lack of recognition of symptoms that might be related to heart disease, or that don’t fit into classic definitions. 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.
“Women are much more likely to have atypical heart attack symptoms,” says Dr. Lili Barouch, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “So while the classical symptoms, such as chest pains, apply to both men and women, women are much more likely to get less common symptoms such as indigestion, shortness of breath, and back pain, sometimes even in the absence of obvious chest discomfort.”
Women and men share many heart disease risk factors, but recent studies are showing what previous male-focused studies have not shown: Women also have their own unique heart disease risk factors.
Traditional risk factors common to both women and men:
Some risk factors that relate specifically to women or that can affect women disproportionately include:
The first step to lowering cardiovascular risk is to raise your awareness of the risk factors and symptoms that are particular to women. The next step is to take actions and practice daily behaviors that lower the risk factors you can control.
Because heart disease and heart attack symptoms in women sometimes don’t include the “classic” angina or chest pain, Dr. Barouch stresses the importance of paying attention to your body, and not being shy about asking questions. “If you don’t feel right, and especially if you have symptoms such as difficulty breathing, persistent nausea and abdominal pain, or any other unusual symptoms, you should talk to your doctor and not just shrug it off.”