Jessamine County Coroner

Not a Man's Disease

Every year since 1984, more women have died of heart disease than men.  For many years, this disease was thought to be something that only men suffered from, and statistically women were far less likely to be treated, or even tested for heart disease.  Perhaps as a result of numerous factors relating to changing roles and responsibilities that women encounter, heart disease is now recognized as a disease of women as well as men.  In the United States, 1 in 4 women die from heart disease. 

According to Dr. Kathy Magliato, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Saint John’s Health Center in Los Angeles, and president of the American Heart Association of Greater Los Angeles, “Women tend to downplay their symptoms, and they tend to wait longer to come to the hospital, and that’s why they die at home.  The most common way women present with heart disease is dead… dead on arrival”.*

While heart disease, also known as coronary heart disease (CHD), is the number one killer of both men and women. In recent years, as deaths attributed to the disease have declined, the drop has been much less significant in women.  This is due in part because the symptoms are often different in a woman than what is typically described in a man.  While most men will experience chest pain, women might not have what she would describe as pain, but rather an achy, tight or heavy feeling.  This sensation might be in the back instead of the chest as well. The most important sign is feeling really tired, even after enough sleep. 

The top five symptoms of Heart Disease in Women are:


            Shortness of Breath

            Indigestion, Upper Abdominal Pain or Nausea

            Jaw or Throat Pain

            Arm Pain (Especially the left arm)

Other signs that should not be ignored include:

            Trouble Breathing

            Trouble Sleeping

            Feeling Sick in the Stomach

            Feeling Scared or Nervous

            New or Worse Headaches


Heart Disease is more difficult to diagnose in women due to the fact that abnormal blood vessel function happens on a smaller scale in women.  Women tend to get disease at the level of microvessels, which are very tiny vessels that supply blood to the heart. This is called Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD).  Many researchers think that a drop in estrogen levels during menopause combined with other heart disease risk factors causes coronary MVD. This may be why Men tend to develop disease in the larger vessels, which are the arteries which are more easily seen in diagnostic procedures such as cardiac catheterirization.  Standard tests for CHD are not designed to detect MVD, thus test results for women who actually have coronary MVD may show that they are at low risk for heart disease. Research is continuing in MVD to improve detection and treatment for women with this disease.

What can you do to protect yourself?  

            Know Your Body, and Don’t Downplay or Ignore the Warning Symptoms

            Eat Healthy and Avoid Fast Food

            Exercise at least 30 Minutes Every Day

            Don’t Smoke and Stay Away From People Who Are Smoking

            Get Your Blood Pressure Checked Frequently

            Control Your Diabetes

            Get Your Cholesterol Checked Often


*ABC News

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