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What women need to know about heart disease

When people think about hearts in February, valentines are what typically come to mind. However, February also marks an important heart-related topic for residents in Louisiana and across the country.

February is designated as American Heart Month, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Heart disease kills one out of every four people in the country. Everyone should be aware of the risks of heart disease and heart attacks, but women in particular have risks and symptoms that may vastly differ from men’s, which may make it difficult for doctors to diagnose or treat a potentially life-threatening condition.

The Atlantic cites heart disease as the top killer of women in the United States. Every year, thousands of women go about their daily lives being improperly diagnosed with this silent killer, while men may be more accurately diagnosed for both heart disease and active heart attacks, leading to more timely intervention and treatment. Why does this happen? Throughout the 20th century, studies on heart disease were focused mainly on men. Heart attacks were largely regarded by the medical community as a “man’s disease,” and the misinformation continues to be propagated. Therefore, education, tests and treatments for heart disease are often focused on men.

Many women who have lived through heart attacks say that they felt they needed to convince doctors something was wrong, or that their concerns were being ignored. Men often feel chest pain and pressure when having a heart attack. It is important for women to learn that their symptoms may be vague and can include indigestion, nausea or vomiting, as well as pain or discomfort in the back, shoulder, arm, neck or jaw.

When women are educated in knowing their risks and symptoms and actively involved in their health care, their chances of having a missed or wrong diagnosis may be reduced.

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