The difference between how men and women experience chest pain
Angina is a term, used to describe painful sensations in the chest.
It’s actually a warning sign of coronary artery disease. It occurs, when fatty plaques accumulate inside the arteries, which carry blood to the heart muscle in order to nourish it with oxygen.
When plaques grow large enough to reduce blood flow, heart muscle becomes deprived in oxygen.
As a result, heart cells may fail to work as needed that causes tightness, burning and pressure in the chest.
Angina is usually felt after physical exertion like climbing up the stairs or running. The reason is that during physical activity, your heart requires more oxygen than in rest.
Fatty plaques are cholesterol deposits, which commonly appear because of poor dietary choices, lack of exercises and tobacco consumption. Uncontrolled high blood sugar levels and unmanaged high blood pressure can significantly damage your vessels, increasing risks for heart disease.
Family history, aging and stress were found to play great role too.
It’s interesting that women often describe angina symptoms differently than man do.
One study, conducted by scientists from Harvard Medical School, found that women use many terms (“pressing”, “crushing”, “squeezing”) to give their doctors better understanding of kind of chest pain, while men describe the same symptoms with a few simple words, like “chest pain”.
But the American Heart Association claim that in 50% of cases, women with angina don’t have fatty deposits and blockage inside their coronary arteries.
So why do we feel pain in the chest when exercising, if the vessels are clean?
Specialists say that sometimes inner layers of the tiny arteries, which branch off from the major coronary vessels, get damaged that leads to spasms and reduction of blood supply of the heart muscle.
This condition, called microvascular angina, happens particularly in young women.
That’s why traditional medical tests, used to diagnose cardiovascular disease, often don’t show any significant changes and plaques in the coronary arteries. This makes physicians to reject heart-related problems in patients with chest pain.
By the way, uncomfortable sensations in the chest are not the only sign of angina. Women with both obstructive coronary artery disease and microvascular disease often complain of breathlessness, extreme fatigue and inability to sleep well.
In fact, risk factors for microvascular angina are the same with those for atherosclerosis and obstructive heart disease.
In addition to smoking, fat-full diet, diabetes and excessive weight, hormonal imbalance was found to take part in developing microvascular angina too.
Female reproductive hormones protect your heart and vessels from harmful accumulation of fatty plaques. When estrogen levels drop down (in menopause,in those who have functional problems in ovaries etc.), chances of getting heart disease become high.
Cardiovascular disease is the most common culprit of death among American women. And angina is often a predictor of potentially life-threatening events like myocardial infarction.
It’s very important to seek for medical help without delay, if you experience chest pain first time, or if your angina symptoms become worse.