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Signs of heart disease may be more subtle in women than in men

Prof. Corrine Jurgens, Connell School of Nursing at Boston College, MA, USA

A recently published review paper in the journal Circulation showed that symptoms of heart conditions may be less clear in women than in men [1]. Awareness of subtle symptoms of heart disease is therefore especially important for women, since heart disease is still the cause of death in about 1 out of 3 women.

According to Prof. Corrine Jurgens (Connell School of Nursing at Boston College, MA, USA), symptoms of heart disease mostly occur in clusters. Therefore, it is necessary to look for patterns of symptoms.

Heart attack

Although the risk of a heart attack is two times higher in men than in women, women often experience more symptoms than men. Next to chest pain, or radiating sensations to the jaw arms, and back, women may experience nausea, light-headedness, extreme fatigue, and cold sweats.


Similarly, in strokes, women may experience headaches and a severely altered mental state next to the classical symptoms of facial drooping, arm weakness, and difficulty speaking.

Heart failure

Also, in heart failure women may experience a wider variety of symptoms than men. Although shortness of breath is the key symptom related to heart failure, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, mood changes and memory loss are typical symptoms of this disease as well. Women may experience additional symptoms, such as sweating, unusual swelling, and feelings of heartburn, and these symptoms are often accompanied by depression and anxiety.

Heart valve disease

When it comes to heart valve disease symptoms may actually differ between men and women. The review reported that men are more likely to experience chest pain with this condition, whereas women are more likely to have trouble with breathing and exercising

Abnormal heart rhythm

Especially in women, abnormal heart rhythm is often experienced as fluttering in the chest. In contrast, men often do not report symptoms of an abnormal heart rhythm at all. Other possible symptoms are fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

Peripheral vascular disease

Difficulty walking is the main symptoms for peripheral artery disease. This may be accompanied with pain, fatigue, or a feeling of heaviness in leg and foot. Notably, women often have conditions that may mirror the symptoms of peripheral artery disease, such as osteoarthritis, complicating the diagnosis of peripheral artery disease.

  1. Jurgens CY, et al. State of the Science: The Relevance of Symptoms in Cardiovascular Disease and Research: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2022.

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