I can hardly believe that this is the third February in a row that I\’m writing this column! If you\’ve been with us from the beginning, or if you\’ve read some of our past medical columns, then you\’ll know what\’s coming next. February is not only the month of Valentine\’s Day, but also American Heart Month. (You can celebrate both by eating dark chocolate!) In keeping with those themes, and given how extraordinarily important it is for you to know about and understand how heart disease affects, and is different in, women, this month\’s column will be on the same topic as last year\’s, and as the year before: heart disease.

The most important thing for you to know about heart disease in women is that often it does not produce the same symptoms in women as it does in men. We\’re all familiar with the classic symptoms that men have, and are warned about: a crushing pressure-type pain on the left side of the chest, often traveling down the left arm and/or up to the left side of the jaw, and accompanied by profuse sweating and/or shortness of breath. Many say that the symptom feels like “an elephant sitting on the chest.” These symptoms may of course occur in a woman who is having a heart attack, but often do not.

Women more often tend to get less specific, and more vague, symptoms. These include the feeling of indigestion, upper back pain, jaw or arm pain alone, dizziness, profound weakness or fatigue, or upper abdominal discomfort. What is frightening is that not only does the woman with these symptoms tend to ignore them, but if she doesn\’t and gets herself to an emergency room or other medical facility, the medical professionals examining her often do not recognize these symptoms as being cause by a heart attack or heart disease. Surprised?

Studies have also shown that over 90% of women who have had heart attacks recall having had symptoms which were unusual for them about one month prior to their heart attack. These symptoms included profound fatigue, shortness of breath, indigestion, and sleep problems, among others. Therefore, you can see why it\’s crucial that you stay aware of your body, and of any new symptoms that do not go away quickly. And you can also see why it\’s so very important for you to advocate for yourself if you experience symptoms you know are unusual for you, especially if you are told that “nothing\’s wrong.” Speak up – it\’s your own life that you may be saving!

Since my February columns of the past two years covered most of the other aspects of heart disease, hopefully you\’ll be patient with me as I refer you to them. You can get there by scrolling down to the bottom of this column and clicking on the columns entitled “Heart of Glass,” and “This Old Heart of Mine – Parts I & II.”

Also, to learn more about heart disease, go to the website of the American Heart Association

Happy Valentine\’s Day AND Happy/Healthy Heart Month!