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Protect Yourself From a Wrong Diagnosis by Steve Horowitz

8 October 2012 9,281 views 14 Comments
3 Commonly Misdiagnosed Health Conditions in Women
In the quest to cure what ails you, doctors sometimes don’t consider the health differences between the sexes. That may lead to a wrong diagnosis. Here are 3 medical conditions often overlooked in women and tips on how to protect yourself. Plus, test your smarts with our women's health quiz…

1. Heart Disease
Nausea, shortness of breath and sharp chest pain are common symptoms of cardiovascular disease. In women, though, they might be blamed on anxiety or heartburn.
Many physicians still assume women under 55 years old seldom have heart attacks, says Hardy Schwartz, M.D., medical director of non-invasive cardiology at the Sarasota Memorial Heart & Vascular Institute in Florida.
That means women who show symptoms of heart disease are almost seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed than men.
“Part of the problem is that so little research has been done on women, although it’s getting better,” he says.
Why it’s hard to diagnose: “Health care for women has traditionally focused on screening for breast, ovarian, cervical and other cancers,” says Norma Keller, M.D., clinical chief of cardiology at Bellevue Hospital in New York.
“But ironically, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women over 45, killing 1,400 women every day.”
That’s more deaths than all cancers combined.

Most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease, usually the result of arteriosclerosis.
This buildup of plaque causes arteries to harden and narrow, which prevents the flow of blood and can result in a heart attack.
Women manifest different symptoms of heart disease than men, particularly if they're suffering from coronary microvascular syndrome (CMS), reports the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
In women with this condition, plaque collects in small arteries of the heart, which can be overlooked in routine angiograms.

In the quest to cure what ails you, doctors sometimes don’t consider the health differences between the sexes. That may lead to a wrong diagnosis. Here are 3 medical conditions often overlooked in women and tips on how to protect yourself. Plus, test your smarts with our women's health quiz…

1. Heart Disease
Nausea, shortness of breath and sharp chest pain are common symptoms of cardiovascular disease. In women, though, they might be blamed on anxiety or heartburn.

Many physicians still assume women under 55 years old seldom have heart attacks, says Hardy Schwartz, M.D., medical director of non-invasive cardiology at the Sarasota Memorial Heart & Vascular Institute in Florida.

That means women who show symptoms of heart disease are almost seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed than men.

“Part of the problem is that so little research has been done on women, although it’s getting better,” he says.

Why it’s hard to diagnose: “Health care for women has traditionally focused on screening for breast, ovarian, cervical and other cancers,” says Norma Keller, M.D., clinical chief of cardiology at Bellevue Hospital in New York.

“But ironically, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women over 45, killing 1,400 women every day.”

That’s more deaths than all cancers combined.

Most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease, usually the result of arteriosclerosis.

This buildup of plaque causes arteries to harden and narrow, which prevents the flow of blood and can result in a heart attack.

Women manifest different symptoms of heart disease than men, particularly if they're suffering from coronary microvascular syndrome (CMS), reports the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In women with this condition, plaque collects in small arteries of the heart, which can be overlooked in routine angiograms.

How to prevent misdiagnosis: Women who experience heart disease symptoms – pressure or burning in the chest, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, fatigue and nausea – should ask their doctor about a nuclear stress test or stress echocardiogram, Schwartz says.

Also, just as they do for cancer, women should get screened for heart disease and be aware of their risk factors:

  • Find out if your parents or grandparents suffered from heart disease.
  • Monitor your blood pressure regularly, especially if high blood pressure runs in your family.
  • Have your cholesterol measured annually, more often if it's high.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • If you're obese, lose weight. Exercise 30-40 minutes at least four times per week.
  • If you're diabetic, take your insulin as instructed, eat a balanced diet low in sugar and engage in daily exercise, such as walking.

For more info, check out our Heart Disease Health Center.

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