Harvard Women's Health Watch

Chest pain? How you describe your symptoms matters

Why you need to know your heart risks, and respond quickly to the warning signs.

Plaque-clogged arteries that reduce blood flow to the heart can lead to temporary chest pain—a symptom known as angina. A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that women and men use different terms to describe the feeling of angina. While men tend to complain of "chest pain," women use words like "heaviness."

The use of different terminology adds to the mistaken perception that heart disease is a man's disease, says Dr. Catherine Kreatsoulas, a heart and stroke research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. "By the time they're age 70, men and women have equal rates of heart disease," she says. "And then women surpass men."

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