July 6, 2011 -- Top 5 Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women
2. Shortness of Breath
3. Indigestion, Upper Abdominal Pain or Nausea
4. Jaw or Throat Pain
5. Arm Pain (Especially the left arm)
"The most common way women present with heart disease is dead, dead on arrival," Dr. Kathy Magliato, cardiothoracic surgeon at Saint John's Health Center in Los Angeles, told ABC News. "Women tend to downplay their symptoms, and they tend to wait longer to come to the hospital, and that's why they die at home."
Every year since 1984 more women than men have died of heart disease, said Magliato, and 50 percent of all women never experience chest pains.
While heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women, in recent years, as deaths attributed to the disease have declined, the drop has been much less significant in women.
"We have to think of this disease as a woman's disease, it's not a man's disease," said Magliato, who is also president of the American Heart Association of Greater Los Angeles. "The symptoms between men and women are so drastically different that what women believe is heart disease is really men's heart disease."
A new report from the Society for Women's Health Research and Women Heart cites a lack of gender-specific research and insufficient recruitment of women and minorities for trials as the main obstacles in detecting and diagnosing cardiovascular disease.
"Improved participation rates of women and minorities in CVD trial research would result in more appropriate prevention and early detection, accurate diagnosis and proper treatment of all women with heart disease," according to the report.
Another reason heart disease is more difficult to diagnose in women than in men is that abnormal blood vessel function happens on a smaller scale in women.
"Women tend to get disease at the level of ... microvessels, which are very small, very tiny vessels that supply the blood to the heart," said Magliato. "Men tend to get blockages in the larger blood vessels of the heart, the blood vessels that we see when we do our typical studies for diagnosing heart disease."
Magliato said that the best precautionary step a woman can take against heart disease, in addition to eating well and becoming active, is knowing the symptoms. She said women need to listen to their bodies, and if they have one or more of these top symptoms, they should see a doctor immediately.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.