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Taking Care of the Female Heart: February 7, 2012

Jean Burke and Marian Alpaugh represent a snapshot of women’s heart health. After age 40, one in five women are at risk of developing heart disease, whether they know it or not.

“The only thing I had was going over to one of the malls and I went in one store and came out and walked and found that I was out of breath which is unusual for me so I had to sit down,” says Alpaugh.

Marian was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heart rate. Jean Burke has a different issue.

“I have some narrowed valves. It hasn’t needed any particular work at this point but I did have the nuclear stress test just recently,” says Burke.

They’re lucky, many women don’t recognize the trouble that may be brewing within them.

Classic symptoms of a heart attack are crushing chest pains that radiates to the arms along with shortness of breath and sweating. Problem is, women may not get or read the warning signs.

“Women can have the classical and the very typical symptoms as well, but they often don’t, and so that becomes even more challenging for us,” says Dr. Steven Lee, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Atypical signs include back, neck or jaw pain, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, lightheadedness and fatigue. One study showed women are twice as likely to experience nausea, vomiting and fatigue as their heart attack symptoms.

“So the best thing to do is encourage everyone to get it checked out if you’re experiencing chest pain, particularly on a recurrent basis,” says Dr. Lee.

Paying attention to the little things may be the best way to care for a women’s heart.