Female vs. male hearts: Is there a difference when diagnosing heart disease?


Women aren’t supposed to get heart disease.

That was the thinking years ago, and that thinking persists today in the diagnosis of heart disease, according to Dr. Gerald Fletcher, a cardiologist with Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Women will tell me, ‘I don’t feel right,’” Fletcher says. “They don’t like to say they are experiencing chest pain. They are vague about the symptoms that brought them to the doctor’s office. This is particularly true with the elderly population. The thinking that women don’t get heart disease or have heart attacks is a holdover from that thinking years ago.

“Men, on the other hand, are more likely to say something like, ‘I have discomfort in my chest.’ They are more specific with their explanation of symptoms.”

That common experience among physicians leaves Fletcher with a recommendation for all of us: Bring a family member with you to your appointment. This gives doctors a better perspective about the person and the medical and emotional perspective the family has.

There is one other distinction doctors see, but this one crosses genders. This distinction is between deniers and complainers.

“A lot of people are deniers,” Fletcher says. “They don’t want to admit they have a medical issue.  Others are complainers. They are at the doctor’s office with every little ache.”

Recent science has also shown some differences in warning signs. The American Heart Association lists these warning signs for women:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

For men, the warning signs are:

  • Chest discomfort — the most common sign of heart danger.
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or stomach pain.
  • Pain that spreads to the arm.
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Throat or jaw pain.
  • Getting exhausted easily.
  • Snoring.
  • Sweating.

If you have these warning signs, call 911 and get medical attention right away.

Courtesy of Kentucky Living.