Report: Women, men experience different heart disease symptoms

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Women and men often may experience different symptoms for cardiovascular diseases and must be better understood to improve treatment, a new report says. Photo by Hamilton Viana Viana/Pixabay

Women and men often may experience very different symptoms for cardiovascular diseases, and this must be better understood to improve treatment, a new report says.

Women are more likely than men to report symptoms beyond chest pain when having a heart attack, depression and anxiety with heart failure, and shortness of breath, exercise intolerance and physical frailty with heart valve disease, according to a new report in Circulation, the American Heart Association’s flagship journal.

The report reviewed the latest research, highlighting the most reported symptoms, as part of a new American Heart Association scientific statement published Thursday.

Six conditions of cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of death in the United States and globally — were reviewed in the AHA’s scientific statement: heart attack, heart failure, valve disease, stroke, heart rhythm disorders, and peripheral artery and vein disease.

“Symptoms of these cardiovascular diseases can profoundly affect quality of life, and a clear understanding of them is critical for effective diagnosis and treatment decisions, Corrine Y. Jurgens, associate professor at Boston College’s Connell School of Nursing, said in a news release.

“It is important to recognize that many symptoms vary in occurrence or severity over time, that women and men often experience symptoms differently, and factors such as depression and cognitive function may affect symptom detection and reporting,” said Jurgens, chair of the scientific statement writing committee.

She added that monitoring for depression and cognitive function may help to improve patient care “by identifying more quickly people who may be at higher risk.”

Women who experience a stroke are more likely than men to have other, less familiar symptoms — including headache, altered mental state, coma or stupor — in addition to the common ones, the release said.

For peripheral artery disease, which affects the arteries in the lower extremities and causes reduced blood flow in the legs, women are more likely than men to report pain in places other than the calf muscle or no symptoms at all.

And women — and younger adults — with heart arrhythmias are more likely to experience palpitations; men are more likely to experience no symptoms.

The AHA’s statement details the symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease, similarities or differences in symptoms among the conditions, and differences in how symptoms present in men and women, and how they report these symptoms.

Previously, women’s symptoms often have been described as “atypical,” but a recent AHA advisory concluded “this label may have been due to the lack of women included in the clinical trials from which the symptom lists were derived,” the release said.

The AHA’s statement highlights that people with persistent chest pain, people with heart failure, stroke survivors and people with peripheral artery disease commonly have depression and/or anxiety.

It also notes that cognitive changes after a stroke may affect how and whether symptoms are experienced or noticed.

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