2010-02-12 / Columnists

SJEH Wellness Corner

Heart Disease: Not Just a Man’s Disease Anymore
Commentary By Sergio Sokol, MD Chief of Cardiology, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital

Sergio Sokol MD Sergio Sokol MD Sergio Sokol, MD, Chief of Cardi-ology at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, specializes in non-invasive cardiology including the diagnostic modalities of nuclear medicine and echocardiography or cardiac ultrasound. Dr. Sokol received his medical degree from the Sackler School of Medicine Tel Aviv University in Israel. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Albert Ein-stein College of Medicine and a fellowship in cardiovascular disease at North Shore University Hospital. Dr. Sokol is a member of the American College of Cardiology and the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology. He is board certified in cardiology, internal medicine and nuclear cardiology. He speaks fluent Spanish and Hebrew

It’s not just a man’s world anymore. Now women have to worry about heart disease as much as men do. Since February is Heart Month and February 5 was National Women Wear Red Day it is a good time to review the symptoms of heart attack women may experience.

Everyone knows that women are different from men but this also may carry over to illnesses and disease. In fact, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that women may not experience the same heart attack symptoms as men, especially as it regards to the one most important symptom, chest pain.

Surprisingly, women’s most frequently reported early warning symptoms were unusual fatigue (70.7%), sleep disturbance (47.8%), and shortness of breath (42.1%).

Fewer than 30% of the women reported having chest pain or discomfort prior to their heart attacks, and 43% reported having no chest pain during any phase of the attack. Most doctors, however, continue to consider chest pain as the most important heart attack symptom in both women and men. “Typical” cardiac symptoms were based primarily on the experience of white, middle-aged men. A lack of major chest pain may be a major reason why women have more unrecognized heart attacks than men. The NIH researchers found the women in the study who did experience chest discomfort more often described it as aching, tightness or pressure rather than pain.

In the study, 515 women who had been diagnosed with a heart attack were asked to list their symptoms in the previous 4 to 6 months prior to the attack. The two most frequent symptoms, fatigue and sleep disturbances, were most likely to be rated as severe.

Major symptoms preceding a heart attack in order or reported frequency
Unusual fatigue – 70%
Sleep disturbance – 48%
Shortness of breath – 42%
Indigestion – 39%
Anxiety – 35%
Major Acute symptoms during a
heart attack in order of reported frequency
Shortness of breath – 58%
Weakness – 55%
Unusual Fatigue – 43%
Cold sweat – 39%
Dizziness – 39%

Clearly heart attack symptoms vary widely among women and men as well as among individuals. If you suspect you are having a heart attack, please keep in mind that women’s symptoms for heart attack differ from men’s, and call for emergency medical help immediately. To make an appointment in the Internal Medicine or Cardiology Practice at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital please call 718-869-7690.

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