Nov 03, 2014 9:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

Heart disease is the most common cause of death for women. One fourth of all people who have heart attacks before the age of 55 are women. Yet, new research from the Harvard School of Public Health finds women are much more likely to dismiss symptoms of heart problems. “Women may put the care of others ahead of care for themselves,” says James Fang, MD, chief of Cardiovascular Medicine for University of Utah Health. “Unfortunately, that can be a deadly mistake.”

The Harvard research finds women are more likely to exhibit an “optimism bias” when it comes to their heart disease symptoms, believing that they are less at risk for a negative outcome than they actually are. However, by putting off seeking care, they are actually putting themselves at a greater risk for complications. “Heart disease is best treated in its earliest stages,” says Fang, “The more advanced the case, the fewer treatment options available. If you are having any symptoms that suggest heart problems you should seek help right away.”

Tightness and pain in the chest are the primary signs of heart problems. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, pain in the arms, neck or jaw, or a lightheaded sensation. “Some women will experience symptoms and write them off as something else, like heartburn,” says Fang, “Or they will experience them and then push the concerns out of their minds when they stop. Instead they should be calling their doctor to be assessed for their risk of heart disease.”

Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Coordinator for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby.

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