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Heart failure warning symptoms differ for women

July 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Women and men share symptoms when it comes to heart disease, but for heart failure, women have their own set of unique warning signs to look out for.

Nancy Poe has been living with her aches and pains for 15 years now. She's had eight stents put in for heart disease and was diagnosed with lung cancer the same day.

"Some days I hurt, but then I stop and I rest, and then I get up and I keep going," said Poe.

But two years ago she couldn't even do that.

"I felt like I couldn't breathe," said Poe. "I couldn't even walk from one room to the other room in the trailer."

Poe's hands and feet also began to swell. Her doctor diagnosed her with congestive heart failure. It's a condition in which the heart can't pump blood the way it should. It accounts for 159,000 women dying each year -- four times as many women as breast cancer.

"Women don't have the typical symptoms," said cardiologist Dr. Ali Tabrizchi.

Tabrizchi says that often leads women to ignore them, symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling or unexplained weight gain.

"A lot of patients can get used to their symptoms," said Tabrizchi. "Their shortness of breath, they may downplay and say 'Well I'm just a little overweight,' or 'I'm getting a older so I'm not going to walk as far.'"

Tabrizchi says even if you only have one of these symptoms you need to be evaluated for underlying heart disease.

That's what Nancy Poe's daughter, Ginny, did. After her mom was diagnosed, the fit 50-something started getting shortness of breath and had heart flutters.

"Never did I think that it would be anything with my heart," said Ginny.

But she listened to her body and after seeing her doctor, found out she had congestive heart failure too.

"I could have not made it," said Ginny.

Now she's thankful she didn't let it go.

The leading causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart, like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes.

Besides eating a healthy diet and not smoking, you can lower your risk by working with your doctor to control high blood pressure and diabetes.


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