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Heart disease often undiagnosed in women

October 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The hard numbers show more women die from heart attacks than men. While the cause for this is still being researched, one reason may be that women don't take heart disease seriously.Gina Kunes, 45, thought the little pressure she felt in her chest was just stress so she went against her doctor's orders.

"She said, 'You need to go into the emergency room. You need to be checked out,'" explained Kunes. "I said, 'I think I will be OK.'"

So she put it off for weeks. But Providence St. Joseph Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Dan Eisenberg says that's where women go very wrong. Most never think it could be their heart.

"Heart disease is five times more likely to cause death than all the cancers that women have," said Dr. Eisenberg.

Kunes figured if she wasn't clutching her chest and dropping to the ground, it couldn't be that bad. But doctors say heart attack in women presents completely different than men.

Signs of a heart attack in women include sweating, pain that goes down their arm, pressure in the chest, gastric distress, trouble swallowing and sometimes panic.

"They're not the classic presentations that physicians have been trained to look for," said Dr. Eisenberg.

Nausea and impending sense of doom may be subtle signs, but doctors say they can be just as dangerous.

"Absolutely dangerous," said Dr. Eisenberg. "The signs maybe signs that something may be pending, and if you miss them and the patient goes home they may die."

Several weeks later, Kunes finally went to her doctor. Because of a stress test, they suspect her arteries are narrowed. More testing will tell them for sure, but definitely something is wrong.

Doctors say you should keep on top of your blood pressure and know what your cholesterol is and what it means. And studies show eating better and exercising regularly can go a long way in women.

Kunes knows it could have been worse. So she has this message for other women.

"Really, really be educated as to what the signs are," said Kunes.

Dr. Eisenberg says a woman's risk for a heart attack increases significantly once she enters menopause, that's why younger women often don't think it could happen to them, but it can.


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