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Heart Disease: Women Can Miss the Warning Signs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As the number one killer of women, heart disease is a bullet all women must dodge.  But despite the fact that many women have heard this statistic, only one in three of them thinks it applies to us.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can save your life.  But they can be subtle and sometimes indicate something other than a heart attack.

In medicine, it is always smart to put the worst case scenario at the top of the list.  So with that understanding, here they are:

Chest Pain, Pressure or Tightness

This is the most common symptom of a heart attack in women, as it is in men.  But the description of this pain can differ slightly in women.  It can be described as dull or uncomfortable pain, whereas men often feel the classic pressure of an "elephant sitting on their chest" or squeezing behind the sternum or breastbone.

Women experiencing chest pain or discomfort are likely to take an aspirin but not to call 911, according to the American Heart Association.  But chest pain bad enough to lead a woman to take an aspirin should be followed by a call to 911.

Flu-Like Symptoms

Heart attacks in women tend to produce symptoms that are vague in nature and even resemble that of a virus like the flu, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and difficulty sleeping.

These symptoms in women often go unreported because women tend to be accustomed to functioning with a variety of aches, pains and physical complaints and also tend to put others first.

Take This to Heart

While doctors don't understand why men and women seem to experience heart attacks in slightly different ways, they do have some medical theories.  Differences in heart attacks between the sexes may be due to hormonal factors or to the size of the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle, for example.

More research between gender differences in heart disease is always ongoing, but for now, doctors know that recognizing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack is something that every woman needs to know.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio