Middle-aged, overweight men aren’t the only ones who should be worried about heart attacks. In fact, women under 55 are equally (or more!) likely to suffer from heart disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Despite the risks, a 2016 statement issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) has revealed that women are often undertreated for this deadly condition. The reason? Most fail to recognize the silent signs of a heart attack that apply exclusively to females.
While chest pain or pressure is one of the most common signs of a heart attack, there’s a more surprising symptom you should recognize. Women are more likely to experience jaw pain, too, according to Laxmi Mehta, MD, clinical director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the AHA’s statement. Other female-specific symptoms include upper back pain, arm pain, intense fatigue, heartburn, or “just not feeling right,” Mehta told Prevention.
Poor circulation from the heart can cause pain in a woman’s jaw, neck, or back, the AHA reports. However, doctors have yet to find a scientific reason why jaw pain and upper body discomfort affect women and not men. Here are the physical and emotional ways heart disease is different for women, too.
If you experience any of these symptoms, visit a doctor right away. Research shows that women tend to wait longer to seek the treatment they need; however, doing so could lead to irreversible consequences. “Women tend to develop cardiogenic shock,” which occurs when your heart suddenly can’t pump enough blood, Mehta said. And the most aggressive treatments may no longer be effective if you wait for too long. Bottom line: It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Keep an eye out for the most common heart conditions in women, and learn how to prevent heart disease.