Heart disease in women

Dr. Ibrahim M. Elmetwally Mansour
Consultant Cardiovascular Diseases

Mediclinic Al Ain Hospital Branch

A narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart, is the most common cause of heart disease in both men and women. This disease develops gradually over time and may result in a heart attack if left untreated.

Some symptoms of heart disease in women vary from men. The most common symptom in women of heart attack is pain and pressure-like discomfort in the chest. However, symptoms might be mild and women may sometimes have a heart attack without experiencing any chest pain.

In addition, women are more likely than men to experience symptoms which are unrelated to chest pain. Symptoms may include pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, one or both arms, abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, sweating, dizziness and unusual fatigue.

Many risk factors for coronary artery disease such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity affect women and men. However, there are other risk factors which may contribute to heart disease in women. These include diabetes, mental stress, smoking, inactive lifestyle, menopause, and certain chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer patients, in addition to pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.

There are several tests that physicians may request to diagnose and confirm heart disease depending on the condition. In addition to blood tests and chest x-ray, the treating physician may request additional tests such as electrocardiogram, holter monitoring, echocardiogram, stress test and cardiac catheterisation among others.  

Treatment is usually similar in both men and women and may include certain medications, angioplasty and stenting, or coronary bypass surgery. If heart symptoms are mainly caused by coronary microvascular disease in women, treatment may include healthy lifestyle adjustments and medications.