ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing about one in every five female deaths in the country, according to the CDC. The most common type is coronary artery disease.
Coronary artery disease develops when the arteries in your heart become blocked by a fatty material called plaque. This narrows the arteries, preventing your heart from getting the blood flow it needs.
“Heart disease can cause symptoms, but oftentimes, especially in women there are not symptoms beforehand,” said. Dr. Jessica Saunders, a cardiologist at Albany Associates in Cardiology, a practice of St. Peter’s Health Partners Medical Associates.
The most common symptom is pain, heaviness, or pressure in the chest, especially during physical or emotional stress. But sometimes heart disease is silent and not diagnosed until emergencies like a heart attack, arrhythmia, or heart failure.
“People will not recognize necessarily because they’re used to thinking about it as a severe pain in the center in the chest. That is a common presentation but it does sometimes happen in other locations,” said Dr. Saunders.
Women are more likely than men are to have less typical signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Sometimes it can be a discomfort in the jaw, shoulder, arm, or the upper abdomen. “It’s often described as chest pain, but sometimes people, especially women, will often feel it in different ways than just the classic way you see on TV,” Saunders said.
Sometimes the symptoms in women are totally unrelated to chest pain and can include fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. It’s important to recognize these signs of heart disease because time is of the essence.
“Definitely don’t delay, if the symptoms don’t seem to be subsiding within 5 minutes or so, the safest and surest thing to do is call 911 and get seen,” she said. The best thing you can do for your heart is quit smoking, eat a heart healthy diet, and stay physically active.