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Docs Miss Women’s Heart Disease Signs

Heart disease, long considered a male problem, is the leading cause of death among American women. But many family doctors don’t know that women and men show different symptoms of the disease, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Each year, 479,000 American women and 447,000 men die from cardiovascular disease, which includes all diseases of the heart and blood vessels that cause heart attacks and stroke.

Despite these statistics, family physicians are surprisingly unfamiliar with some key characteristics of heart disease among women, according to a poll conducted for the hospital.

That poll showed that 64 percent of family doctors incorrectly believe the symptoms of heart disease are the same in women and men.

Women’s symptoms are “more subtle,” said Dr. Joy Drass, vice president for professional services at Washington Hospital Center.

For example, while men suffering from heart disease often experience crushing chest pain, women experience a tightness in the chest that is often mistaken for indigestion, breathlessness, fatigue and nausea.

Drass was distressed to learn that only 50 percent of family doctors correctly named heart disease as the greatest health risk facing women over 50.

Eighteen percent listed breast cancer as the greatest risk, followed by osteoporosis at 10 percent, according to the national survey of 256 primary care physicians.

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