Symptoms of Heart Attacks in Women
Heart attacks, also known as myocardial infarctions or "MIs", often feel different to a woman than to a man. Women are more likely than men to have "silent" or unrecognized heart attacks. Not all heart attacks begin with sudden, crushing chest pain, the way they are often shown in the movies and on TV.
Heart attack symptoms may be severe from the start, or they may be mild at first, and then gradually worsen. Women are more likely than men to have nausea, pain high up in the abdomen, or burning in their chest during a heart attack.
Heart attacks and their aftermath tend to be more deadly in women. About one-quarter more women than men die within a year of having a heart attack. This may happen because women are generally older than men when they suffer heart attacks. Also, women don't respond as well as men to the treatments usually prescribed during or after a heart attack.
Preventing or controlling heart disease may mean making changes in the way you live. A healthy heart requires a personal action plan. But where do you begin? A complete medical checkup is a sensible first step, especially if you have multiple risk factors. Your health care provider can tell if you have cardiovascular disease or its risk factors, and if so, help you with a practical treatment plan. Even if you don't have any risk factors now, you can discuss ways to lessen your chances of developing them.
A common symptom of coronary heart disease is chest pain or tightness, known as angina. It may be the earliest sign of heart disease and usually brings someone to a health care provider for the first time.
Episodes of angina occur when the heart's need for oxygen increases beyond the oxygen available from the blood. Physical exertion is the most common trigger for angina. Other triggers can be emotional stress, extreme cold or heat, heavy meals, alcohol, and cigarette smoking.
A person may feel heaviness, tightness, pain, burning, pressure, or squeezing, usually behind the breastbone but sometimes also in the arms, neck, or jaw. It can also cause shortness of breath. The pain usually gets better or goes away with rest.
An episode of angina is not a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is suddenly and permanently cut off. This causes permanent damage to the heart muscle. Typically, the chest pain is more severe, lasts longer, and does not go away with rest or with medicine. It may be accompanied by indigestion, nausea, weakness, and sweating. Some people, especially women, have heart attacks without ever having any of these symptoms.
Did You Know?
According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
These are the most common warning signals for heart attack:
Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back
Chest discomfort with sweating
Pain that spreads from the chest to the arm, neck, or jaw
Shortness of breath, tiredness, or upset stomach; these are particularly common in women
If you are at risk for heart disease and have any of these symptoms, seek medical attention, up to and including calling 911, immediately. Time is a crucial factor in a heart attack because the longer the blockage remains untreated the more heart muscle will die. Also, drugs that break down blockage in the arteries (thrombolytic therapy) must be given within the first one to two hours.