Your Health Matters: Heart attacks look different in men and women

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This Valentine’s Day, we’re putting the focus on your heart. When it comes to heart attack, Dr. Mahmoud Sharaf from Cardiovascular Associates at UnityPoint Health St. Luke’s takes a through the differences between men and women.

“Men tend to have more of the stereotypical chest pain that we all have been taught about. The kind of crushing pain in the middle of the chest – to the tune of around 80%. Whereas in women, the symptoms can be more atypical: a lot of shortness of breath, a lot of malaise, or feeling unwell, throat pain is actually 12 times more likely in women as it is in men. Some women have even been deserved and thought they had the flu or had nausea related to a G.I. problem, when it really is a heart attack.”

“So, there tends to be about a 10 year lag period between when women tend to develop heart disease and when men start to develop. So, men are going to be around age 50-60; women are going to be age 60-70 by the time they start to really show heart disease. The reason for that – we think there are some protective affects to female hormones, and after menopause, which is usually around age 50-60, that protective effect is lost, so women are kind of catching up when it comes to the incidences of heart disease.

“When it comes to stress-testing, we can do plain stress-testing, which involves the electrical tracings as well as some of the blood pleasure and what we call hemodynamic data, but in women, in particular, to get a more accurate test, we try to combine it with imaging. So, when we’re doing imaging, what we’re trying to do is look at the response of the heart to exercise: are there wall-motion abnormalities that develop of ultrasound that we can see that can help us to identify if we’re dealing with a true problem and, if so, where that problem would be.

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