Coronary Heart Disease: Symptoms
|What Are The Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease?
If your coronary arteries have become partially blocked, then it can cause severe chest pain called angina. If they become totally blocked it can cause a heart attack. Neither angina nor a heart attack are stand alone 'conditions' but rather they are symptoms coronary heart disease (CHD). For women the first sign of CHD is usually angina, while for men it is more likely to be a heart attack. Angina always needs to be investigated as it is considered a warning sign of potential blockages in the arteries (although there are other types of angina not related to CHD). Some people with CHD also experience unusual breathlessness and palpitations (unusual heartbeat patterns where the heart may beat faster or slower than normal or the person has the sensation of a 'skipped' heart beat. Also known as heart arrhythmia). Yet it is also surprisingly common for people to experience no symptoms at all, this is particular true of diabetics or those over the age of 75.
Angina is often referred to as chest pain (see also chest pain in women for other possible causes). It is a symptom of CHD rather than a unique disorder in itself. In most instances it is caused by blockages in one or more of the coronary arteries and occurs when there is extra demand on the heart for blood which needs to be pumped through the narrowed arteries. As the heart does not receive as much fresh blood and oxygen as it needs, pain occurs. Some people experience angina after exercise, others in cold temperatures and others when they are stressed or tense. When pain occurs it is known as an angina attack. Typical signs of an angina attack are:
1. Pressure/squeezing chest pain which may also radiate to the shoulders, arms, neck or jaw.
Typically pain lasts a few minutes and is relieved by rest. If pain lasts longer than 20 minutes a doctor should be notified as this could cause damage to the heart. Angina which occurs while resting is a potentially more serious problem indicating that it may be unstable and could lead to a heart attack. Unstable angina is a medical emergency and should be instantly reported. Normally an angina attack is predictable, this means the person is aware when symptoms are likely to occur (say during exercise). This is called stable angina. When an attack occurs at unpredictable times, say at rest, it is considered unstable. Unstable angina indicates a worsening of the condition, potentially a precursor to a heart attack. About 400,000 patients visit their doctor every year with angina. Seeking medical advice is important because angina is the first indication of trouble for nearly 50 percent of people with heart disease. Treating it early can help prevent a heart attack down the line. See heart disease in women.
Coronary heart disease in women: There is still a myth among women and medical practitioners that heart disease (CHD included) is not a 'woman’s' problem. This myth flies in the face of the reality of 2.5 million American women who are hospitalized annually due to heart disease. Nearly half a million die from heart disease and 50 percent of those from CHD. Yet heart disease is constantly under-recognized and under-treated in women, which is one of the reasons why they are less likely to survive a heart attack than men. For this reason, it is important for women to help themselves, by starting to learn about the symptoms of a heart attack in women so that they can seek treatment early. These are:
Pain or pressure over the chest which radiates down arm. While this is often a key sign of a heart attack, many women who experience a heart attack do not experience chest pain. Or if they do, they are more likely to describe it as a discomfort, pressure or ache rather than a severe pain.
According to some studies women are also more likely to suffer 'atypical' symptoms than men, such as:
Yet the term 'atypical' is probably not relevant as these symptoms are actually quite common for women. Shortness of breath appears to be a particularly important indicator in women. Sweating is less common in women than men.
Women also commonly experience preheart attack (prodromal) symptoms about 4 to 6 months before a heart attack. One study showed that 78 percent of women experienced at least one preheart attack symptom (early sign) for more than a month (either daily or weekly) before their heart attack. Fatigue is the most common preheart attack sign (71 percent) followed by sleep disturbances (about 50 percent).
Many doctors (and women themselves) lack this knowledge, which is why there are so many delays in treating women with heart disease. Even when women do have a heart attack they tend to wait longer than men before seeking medical help. Yet, many lifesaving drugs such as clot-dissolving drugs like thrombolytic therapy and coronary angioplasty work best if given within a few hours of the heart attack.
Prevention better than cure: Coronary heart disease prevention
Angina is sometimes, but not always, a warning sign of a heart attack. But it is still not a heart attack. However they are both symptoms of the same disease (CHD). Angina is a situation where the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen because is not getting enough fresh blood. As a result the heart muscle cries out for help which presents as chest pain. When the heart muscle continues to be deprived of oxygen and fresh blood the muscle starts to die, that is what we call a heart attack.
|Related Articles on Symptoms of CHD in Women
For more advice, see the following:
Back To Homepage: Womens Health Advice
WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT CORONARY HEART DISEASE