Women's Heart Disease Symptoms

Q: I am 48 years of age and fairly active. I get occasional chest discomfort along with breathlessness. Since heart disease usually happens to men, could these be symptoms of menopause?

A: My first response is to ask the question “Is heart disease the sole domain of the male gender?” Absolutely and definitely not!

Heart disease remains the number one killer of both men and women. In the United States, statistics since 1984 show that it has claimed the lives of more women than men. Unfortunately, this trend is continuing. The lower outcome of heart disease in women has been thought to be because women’s heart symptoms have not been taken as seriously as men’s have (gender bias).

Women tend to exhibit less typical symptoms than do men. However, the result of this gender bias is that women in the past have had less heart catheterization referrals than men when exhibiting similar symptoms. This trend is changing for the better at the present time. Women consistently attend rehabilitation following a cardiac event (heart attack, angioplasty, bypass surgery) less than do men (38 percent of women compared with 67 percent of men). This is a problem that needs to be addressed.

In short, chest discomfort and shortness of breath may perhaps be part of the constellation of symptoms that plague postmenopausal women. But it is mandatory and a matter of urgency that you see your physician to ensure that all is well with your heart.