So what should we know about heart disease in women? Unfortunately, like a lot of medical conditions, most things were studied in men. When we look at the last several decades, fortunately, we've made a lot of progress about studying how heart disease can affect women, and we now recognize that it's very prevalent among women as well.
Heart disease can affect women differently, however. One of the main things is that women can have different symptoms than men. And oftentimes, the classical symptoms may not be common. Those symptoms may be squeezing or tight chest pain. Women may sometimes feel different symptoms. Sometimes it's just a vague sense of discomfort, or non-chest symptoms, such as trouble breathing or exerting themselves. So signs of heart disease in women may show up differently.
In men, we classically describe the symptoms as a squeezing chest discomfort that sometimes radiates to the neck, jaw, or left arm, and is associated with sweating. This is not always the case for women. Women may just have a vague sense of discomfort in the chest, or may have non-chest symptoms, such as trouble exerting themselves or lower extremity edema. We now recognize that since heart disease is almost as common in women as it is in men that it's an important area for women to be aware of.
We used to think that certain hormones were protective for women, like estrogen, so that they didn't get their heart disease until after menopause. We recognize now that this is not often the case, and that women can have their heart disease even pre-menopause.
With that in mind, we always talk to our patients about looking out for the common symptoms. In general, the treatment for men and women is similar. It would be taking your medications to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, seeing your doctor regularly, and making healthy lifestyle choices. And that would be the basic differences between men and women in terms of heart disease.