Heart Disease Symptoms In Women May Not Be What You Expect

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Heart disease is the number one killer of women in America, but symptoms of the illness and of heart attacks can be very different for women than for men.

Patient Ginny Coleman nearly died, and her only symptom was pain in her jaw.

“I thought it was my teeth. I had no idea that my life was actually in danger,” she told CBS 2’s Chris Wragge. “It would come and go. Sometimes I would feel it on both sides.”

Coleman’s dentist fixed an abscessed tooth, but four months later, she was suffering from severe pain.

“I was in the middle of the supermarket, and out of nowhere the pain slammed into my jaw and it got like, the shelves started moving further and further away, then my head was getting light,” she Coleman said.

In a panic, she called her doctor.

“I immediately knew that was a red flag,” said Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin.

Coleman never had chest pain or any other classic signs of heart attack, but it turned out she had serious blockages in her arteries. She was shocked but her doctor was not.

“When you see it over and over again, multiple patients of mine just have jaw pain,” McLaughlin said.

“I could have easily died without ever thinking my heart was anything other than healthy,” Coleman said.

For Judy Fine, her symptoms were nausea, then hunger. She called the doctor right away.

“He said ‘well it sounds like maybe you’re stressing out over something. Why don’t you lay down for an hour. Call me back’,” Fine recounted.

An hour later, nothing changed but Fine knew something was wrong. She went to the hospital, where she had a massive heart attack.

“Had I been at home and had to wait for an ambulance, I don’t know that I would be here telling you the story,” she said.

These women’s stories are not uncommon. A recent study showed 43 percent of women who had heart attacks didn’t experience chest pain. Instead they have other symptoms unique to women: the jaw pain, nausea, dizziness, pressure between the shoulder blades, and back pain.

Dr. McLaughlin says many women simply don’t recognize those as symptoms of heart attack or a symptom of heart disease, and neither do many doctors.

“As cardiologists we can see the patients who already developed the disease but I think it’s the frontline doctors that we have to also notify that this is real and you also can’t just ignore it,” McLaughlin said.

Since her heart scare, Coleman has made lifestyle changes and now pays more attention to her body. She urges other women to do the same.

“Get checked out don’t assume its stress. Don’t assume that you’re superwoman. Get checked out because it could be a lot of things but it could be your heart,” she said.

Experts say it is critical for women to be aware of their numbers, including cholesterol and blood pressure. Those tests should begin at about age 20.

On Thursday, December 8, Mount Sinai is hosting its inaugural “Women’s Health Fashion Show And Luncheon” at 583 Park Avenue, New York, NY. For more information, click here.

Please leave a comment below…

  • Abdul Salam Aazath

    Angina is the common symptom of heart disease and it has two formal variants like stable and unstable angina. but in most individuals heart diseases don’t show any symptoms until get complicated. Read here about heart disease symptoms http://bit.ly/tZpOAi

  • Joyce LaGasse

    I actually had very little of what I actually would call bad pain.
    I was uncomfortable sore, tight muscles in my upper back, shoulder and neck. One sour place just below my shoulder bones felt like some on was drilling about an inch whole from my back to between my breast. (never had that soreness before. Then that evening I had the neighing in my stomach and when I wished I had some Ben gay for my left shoulder it hit me like a ton of breaks.
    I called the VA Hospital. He told me to get myself to the hospital. Still happy but concerned too. I was walking around joking when a friend took me to the hospital. In truth I was having a mild heart attach. (Sat. evening)
    Sunday a heart doctor came it to talk to me. I’m still (at least I though I was). Smiling and joking. I could hardly believe I had had a heart attack. He said they would do a stress test Monday morning and then maybe a Cardiac Cath. I said I had recently had a stress test which I was told was just Heart Burn (way – way more painful). Why not just skip the stress test and do the Cardiac Cath.
    First thing Monday morning I had the Cath. Incidentally the shot they give to relax me always put me out. As I was out of the procedure room and waking up they were getting me ready to go to another hospital specializing
    in Heart problem. I went right to the procedure room where I had two stints put in and an angioplasties in the third place. The two larger places were 90 and 95% plugged.
    When I left the hospital it absolutely amazing how great I felt. A week after this all started I went for a three mile walk with Sherry (that took me to the hospital). She watched like a hock and I was a where of every twitch in my body. We walked 1.5 miles then came back. The next day I saw the doctor. He side I could start driving and walking again. Ops—I didn’t tell him I already had. This was 8 ti 10 years ago.

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