Women and heart disease: What you should know

senior woman smiling

Although heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States, each can present with different symptoms "“ some common, while others are not so well known.


Dr. Melissa Ianitelli 
Heart disease and heart attack symptoms in women can vastly differ from those symptoms experienced by men (which are often considered the "traditional" symptoms, such as chest pain and pain down the left arm).

"Women have different symptoms than men do," said Dr. Melissa Ianitelli, a cardiologist with McLaren Macomb. "They can present later, and they can think it's something else when it's really a critical problem."

This has motivated cardiologists to focus on education and building awareness of the differences between how men and women experience heart disease so potential patients know what to look out for.

"The most common symptom we see are things like chest pain, but a lot of people don't say they have "˜pain,' they'll say they have an "˜ache,' or a "˜discomfort,' a "˜heaviness' or "˜something just doesn't feel right,' " Dr. Ianitelli said. "That's something that shouldn't be ignored."

In addition to not ignoring any chest discomfort, she urges everyone (both men and women) to know the risk factors of heart disease:
"¢ High blood pressure
"¢ High cholesterol
"¢ Diabetes
"¢ Obesity
"¢ Smoking
"¢ Family history of heart disease
"¢ Age (risk increases as age advances)

"Some of these risk factors you can change, some you can't," she said. Of the things you can control, she says, do so "“ stay active, watch your weight, quit smoking, control your blood pressure, blood sugar and diet.

To learn more about heart care at McLaren Macomb or to make an appointment with a cardiologist, visit mclarenheart.org.