Because it is assumed that heart failure is less common in women than in men, its symptoms are often overlooked in women. This is why treating these symptoms also becomes difficult. This article discusses the symptoms of this condition in women, which can help in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of this condition effectively.
Studies have reported that women are more prone to death from heart failure than men. This is because it is often assumed that men are more susceptible to heart failure and other heart problems than women. Due to this the symptoms in women go undiagnosed, leading to death. While the symptoms of heart failure in women are similar to those in men, women are likely to develop this condition after menopause. Also, some symptoms are more prominent in women than in men.
Further, the onset of the symptoms is slower than those in men. So, by the time heart failure is recognized, it becomes difficult to completely recover from it. It is however important to note that this condition can also affect younger women because of the rapid lifestyle changes that are affecting their bodies. Women who smoke are more likely to develop heart failure at a younger age than those who don’t.
Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to supply enough blood to the rest of the body, so that it can perform its necessary functions. Heart failure is often mistaken as a heart attack. Heart failure occurs over time and refers to the weakening of the heart. A woman may suffer from left-sided heart failure or right-sided heart failure. In the former, the heart is unable to pump blood to different body parts, while in the latter, the heart cannot pump blood to the lungs, from where blood receives its oxygen supply.
Heart failure is also termed as congestive heart failure. It is a condition when the heart is unable to function as effectively as it would, leading to blood and fluid retention in different parts of the body. This may occur because the heart is unable to supply enough blood to the kidneys for its effective functioning.
Shortness of Breath
Women may develop shortness of breath because of water retention in the lungs, also known as pulmonary edema. This results in exercise intolerance, where even minor exertion can cause them to pant and wheeze. As this occurs due to failure of the right side of the heart, this is one of the prime symptoms of right-sided heart failure. Women may further experience difficulty in breathing when they lie down flat. In such a case, using additional pillows to prop the head above the rest of the body may be helpful.
Along with difficulty in breathing, some women may experience tiredness when having heart failure. The weakening of the heart is one of the prime causes of this symptom and is caused by what is known as diastolic heart failure (where enough blood cannot reach the heart because its walls become stiff). It is also likely that the general lack of activity is causing women to feel weak all the time.
Pain in Chest
Though not a common symptom of congestive heart failure, chest pain may occur when women perform intense or even light activities. This is because they are putting their heart under stress. It is therefore important to note, when, the chest pain occurs. If it occurs without any intense exercise, it may be one of the signs of a heart attack and should be reported to a doctor immediately.
A very subtle sign which is most often ignored as a sign of a regular cold or cough, is coughing. However, persistent cough may be a sign of heart failure when women find themselves wheezing while coughing. It is important to consult a doctor before taking any medication for the cough. This cough is known to be one of the symptoms of systolic heart failure in women, particularly those who are above the age of 75 years. Systolic heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump out enough blood to different parts of the body, due to obstructions in the arteries.
Edema or water retention, is perhaps one of the biggest symptoms of heart failure in women. In such cases, women are likely to find their feet and ankles swollen, though other body parts may also be affected. As aforementioned, this may be because the blood supply to the kidney has reduced, thereby preventing it to perform effectively. Women who have heart failure may urinate less often, which leads to the retention of excess water in the body. One may also experience abdominal bloating due to fluid retention in the abdomen. The buildup of fluid in the stomach can not only cause abdominal bloating, but also lack of appetite and reduction in the effectiveness of medicine. Bloating in this area may also happen due to fluid retention in the liver, causing your abdomen to feel tender.
Some more but less common symptoms include, weakness, lightheadedness and confusion (due to lack of oxygen supply to the brain), and a sensation of cold in extremes of the body such as hands and feet (due to lack of blood supply to these parts). These symptoms are likely if a woman has reached the later and more severe stages of congestive heart failure.
Treatment for heart failure in women is possible; however, depending on their age and the severity of the condition, the treatment may or may not be as effective. The sooner the symptoms are diagnosed, the easier it may be to treat them. More often than not, efforts are made to treat the symptoms and not the root cause itself. In any case, if any of the aforementioned symptoms are noticed and refuse to die down over time, a doctor should be consulted immediately. He will be in a better position to administer the appropriate treatment to deal with the condition.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.