Women and heart disease: Unique signs and symptoms

Women often experience non-traditional symptoms of heart disease.

“Women are less likely to have those classic symptoms.”

Listen to Dr. O'Neil's full podcast interview

Dr. Amy O’Neil, a cardiologist with McLaren Oakland, described the many symptoms often associated with heart disease — chest pain and tightness, fatigue, shortness of breath, arm pain and symptoms that worsen with activity and get better with rest.

But for women, they don’t experience many of these more well-known symptoms.

“Sometimes they can have symptoms of feeling lightheaded, general tiredness,” Dr. O’Neil says, “just not feeling right, not feeling like themselves. They can even get jaw pain.”

A lot of research is currently underway to determine why women experience this condition differently.

But since the symptoms women often experience can easily be disregarded as insignificant or an innocent passing illness, Dr. O’Neil strongly urges everyone to know their risk factors.

“About 80 percent of heart disease is caused by preventable factors,” she said. “The major preventable risk factors include high blood pressure, patients with diabetes, people who smoke or use other forms of tobacco, people who are overweight and have a more sedentary lifestyle, people who don’t exercise on a regular basis and consuming high-fat diets.”

Family history also plays an important role.

“If someone does have a significant family history of heart disease, they should come to their doctor much earlier,” Dr. O’Neil said. “In their 30s, start really paying more attention to any heart symptoms and their lifestyle.”