One way to fight heart disease is to raise awareness among women* (assigned female at birth) and the medical community. People underestimate and overlook the prevalence and seriousness of heart disease in women for various reasons. More research is needed to fully understand why women may not receive the treatment they need as quickly as they need it, but here are a few possible explanations:
- Traditionally, the emphasis has been on men* and the well-known heart attack symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath. When a female has a heart attack, the symptoms may be different or more subtle—potentially causing the individual and healthcare providers to overlook the cause of the problem.
- Females and males are different. Factors such as female hormonal changes during menopause impact how an individual is affected by heart disease and the effectiveness and risks associated with certain treatments.
- Females may be less likely to ask for help when they don’t feel well.
Raising awareness among patients and their healthcare providers will give them the information they need to better care for themselves and their families.
Learn the warning signs
All individuals, even young ones, have heart attacks. Because we’re all different, one person’s heart attack can feel very different from another’s. Although most people with heart attacks experience some chest pain, most don’t experience the so-called “Hollywood heart attack”—a sensation of pain and pressure that leaves these individuals breathless and clutching their chest. Many people, including females, have other very subtle or no symptoms.
Unfortunately, many individuals don’t know these warning signs, so they ignore them and don’t get the help they need in time. So, it’s very important to pay attention to how you feel and know that you don’t have to have chest pain or other intense symptoms to have a heart attack.
*The term “women” in the context of “women’s cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) who have a female biological reproductive system, which includes a vagina, uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, accessory glands, and external genital organs.
*The term “men” in the context of “cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned male at birth (AMAB) who have a male biological reproductive system, which includes a penis, scrotum, testes, epididymis, vas deferens, prostate, and seminal vesicles.
“My family and friends were amazed when they heard what had happened,” said Kathy. “And not because I’m a health nut by any sense of the word, but I was active, ate healthily, and had no prior health concerns.”