Heart Disease in Women: My Personal Experience

Heart disease in women is personal to me. Two years ago, at the age of 52, I experienced chest pain while in the operating room. Despite being healthy and exercising regularly, I neglected the symptoms for most of the day. I initially thought it was heartburn, but the symptoms got worse throughout the day. When I finally went in, I was diagnosed with a coronary dissection, which is similar to but not your typical heart attack. This dissection can occur in healthy women just like me, and it was this experience that made heart health in women important to me. In this blog, we’ll look at heart disease in women and guide you to understand what that means for you. 

A surgeon's personal experience with heart disease in women.

Heart Disease in Women and American Heart Month

The history of American Heart Month began in 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson declared February as American Heart Month. Every year, we take the month of February to bring awareness to heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women. 

Raising awareness about heart disease in women is important to me. Not only do I understand the importance of heart health in women from my own personal experience, but from my friend’s experiences as well. I have friends in their late 40s and early 50s who’ve faced heart issues, including coronary dissection and a traditional lesion with atherosclerosis, leading to one undergoing heart bypass surgery. 

Understanding Heart Health in Women

People often see heart disease as a concern exclusive to males, but it also poses a risk to women. According to the CDC, about 44% of women living in the United States have some form of heart disease. 

While both men and women have similar risk factors, women face unique factors simply by being female. These include hormonal changes and menopause, which is most likely what brought about my artery dissection. In addition, women experience more atypical or uncommon symptoms of a heart attack than men do. 

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

As I said, women can experience atypical symptoms of a heart attack unrelated to a standard indicator like chest pain.

Symptoms of heart disease in women include atypical symptoms.

For women in their 40s and 50s, being proactive about symptoms is essential. If you experience any unusual symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out promptly. While it could be something minor like heartburn, it could also be undetected heart disease. Knowing these symptoms and being able to recognize them can make a significant change in outcomes.

Proactive Prevention

Taking charge of your heart health through proactive prevention can make a significant difference in preventing and managing potential issues. Regular check-ups and screenings play a crucial role in identifying heart disease in women. 

As you approach the age of 50, your doctor may recommend and do a calcium scoring test to assess the presence of calcifications or blockages in your coronary arteries. While 50 is a typical age for this screening, your doctor might want to do these tests at age 45 or even younger if heart disease runs in your family. 

Some things you can do to be proactive about your heart health include, but are not limited to:

  • Knowing your family history
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Being physically active
  • Checking your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Managing stress and getting quality sleep

Advocate for Your Heart 

On the day of my coronary dissection, I mistook symptoms for heartburn, ignoring the pain radiating to my jaw and right arm. Heart health in women is personal to me. I hope that by sharing my experience and knowledge of heart disease and its symptoms, I can provide you with care beyond the visit and encourage you to advocate for heart health.

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