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Lady Killers: Hidden Heart Disease: August 31, 2012

The warning signs are often there, but many women misread them. It’s one reason why heart disease is the leading cause of death of women in the U.S.

Sometimes called a lady killer, 200,000 women die from heart attacks each year. That’s a higher fatality rate than men, partly because many women don’t know they have heart disease.

“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 Lee Memorial Health System cardiologist Dr. Steven Lee.

While we may all be aware of classic presentations of a heart attackā€¦

“Someone who has a pressure or crushing type of chest pain and it typically radiates to the arms and it’s associated with shortness of breath, oftentimes, and sweating,” says Dr. Lee.

Women may feel something different.

“They may have symptoms on the right shoulder, symptoms going up to the jaw, it may go to the back. So it’s not necessarily the typical type of presentation,” says Dr. Lee.

They may also experience nausea, fatigue, fainting or vomiting. Something easily chalked up to stomach problems.

“Oftentimes it can be very difficult for someone to sort that out at home,” says Dr. Lee.

With such a wide span of potential symptoms, doctors are taking a different approach - encouraging women to look at their risk factors and ward off potential problems.

“The same risk factors apply to women as they do for men. We certainly pay attention to the family history, smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, last but certainly not least diabetes,” says Dr. Lee.

These should be the real warning signs for women to look into their heart health.