Heart Matters | American Heart Month

There are plenty of differences between men and women–including the specific warning signs of a heart attack or stroke. According to UW-Madison cardiologist Dr. Karen Moncher, symptoms in women are often more generalized than in men. Watch for these red flags–even in the absence of chest pain:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal reflux (and/or other GI issues such as nausea or vomiting)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness or pressure in the right arm or chest
  • Sweating
  • Vertigo or feeling lightheaded

Stress and depression tend to exacerbate and trigger cardiac episodes in women more frequently than in men and women are more likely to experience such symptoms at rest or while asleep, says Moncher, an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Moncher says women should seek treatment early. “Take charge of your own health. Be your own advocate and coach. Remain positive because you are no good to your husband, children, etc., if you have a heart attack. They want you here, so make taking care of yourself a priority,” she says.

  • 80% of cardiac events are preventable
  • Married women are less likely to seek treatment than single women
  • In 2012, cardiovascular diseases were the leading cause of death for women in Wisconsin
  • Heart disease affects women of every age, race and socioeconomic background at equal rates


The state’s WiseWoman Program provides free health screenings and risk factor assessments for low-income individuals and the uninsured. American Heart Association’s Go Red Campaign holds local events and CPR training, a key immediate response skill, especially when friends or family live with heart disease. For more information: cdc.gov/wisewoman; goredforwomen.org

– Rachel Werner

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