Women can have different heart disease symptoms than men

PITTSBURGH — Channel 11 is teaming up with UPMC to “Check Your Heart” on this American Heart Month.

About one in four women in the U.S. die of heart disease each year. And it’s important to know that the symptoms for women are different than for men.

“Dyspnea or shortness of breath on exertion, sometimes just severe fatigue. Other times, a lot of the women that I see will describe irradiation to their neck or their arm or their jaw, without any chest pain at all,” said Dr. Katie Berlacher, medical director of the Magee Women’s Heart Program.

When it comes to the causes of heart disease, some of the symptoms for men and women are the same.

“So, things like high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of exercise, obesity and obviously the number one risk factor for cardiovascular disease is smoking,” said Dr. Berlacher.

Dr. Berlacher added there are additional unique risk factors for women. They include hormones, menopause, conditions during pregnancy that could lead to higher risks later, and stress, which in women seem to produce more symptoms than men.

“If you think about during the pandemic, women, unfortunately, more so than men have lost more of their jobs, and then been forced back home, two and a half million during the past two years of pandemic. That’s increased our stress level, right? Not only because it’s something that we maybe didn’t choose by ourselves, but also because there’s different things at home. Now we have to manage all the kids and online learning,” said Dr. Berlacher.

She shared that doctors’ major concern right now is women who missed or canceled appointments during COVID-19. She urged women everywhere to check in with their doctors as soon as possible, and to pass that message along to friends, family and neighbors.

“The biggest thing I want women to know is to take care of you,” Dr. Berlacher said. “Take a moment, pause for just a second and take care of you. Because we do a lot of things for a lot of other people, and we are unable to do that in the long form if we don’t care of ourselves right now.”

Doctor Berlacher stressed the importance for women to keep track of their blood pressure, especially since high blood pressure can be asymptomatic.

For more on heart screening or services in our area, visit UPMC’s Check Your Heart page at upmc.com/checkyourheart

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