Think of the flu symptoms you experience. It can begin as discomfort in the chest, pain or pressure in the back; neck; or jawline, or even lightheadedness and nausea.
Women take heed; it may be the onset of a heart attack! Heart attack symptoms in women don’t often include the dramatic theater acting of clutching the chest and falling to the floor.
Feeling like you ran a marathon when, in fact, you haven’t even taken a step? The next few minutes of reading could save your life, or the life of a female loved one.
A heart attack, or a myocardial infarction, occurs when the heart lacks oxygen due to a blockage of the bloodstream to the heart. This blockage is usually caused by a build-up of plaque developed over time by matter such as cholesterol and fat. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the more damage it does to the heart muscle and the affected section of the heart begins to die. Three outcomes are evident, mild damage to the heart, severe complications as a result, and even death.
A heart attack strikes someone every 43 seconds. Please read that sentence again. Every 43 seconds.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
Women experience heart attacks quite differently from men. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. There are several symptoms women attribute to other disorders or illness and ignore the signs. This is why a heart attack is known as the silent killer. Let’s take a closer look at the subtle hints of heart attack symptoms for women.
1. Back, Neck, Jaw, or Arm Pain
A more common symptom in women than men is a sudden or gradual pain in the back, neck, jaw, or arm. It can radiate between these regions or be concentrated in one or more sections. It intensifies such that if asleep, it will wake you up. Cardiologists stress the importance of seeking medical attention for any atypical or unexplained symptoms in the upper body region.
2. Cold Sweat
Breaking out in a cold sweat is often overlooked as a symptom of being overheated or the beginning of the flu. The distinguishing factor is the awareness of it being stress-related as oppose to perspiration.
3. Shortness of Breath, Lightheadedness, or Nausea
This particular symptom is common in men and women with women not experiencing chest pain in association with the shortness of breath.
One study published by the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal found that of 515 women who suffered a heart attack, more than 42% had shortness of breath as a symptom one month before the event. This sudden disruption in breathing can happen without any physical efforts of any kind.
4. Chest Pressure or Discomfort
It can feel like a vise crushing a section of your chest. Although it can happen in both men and women, women tend to have this sense of pressure anywhere in the chest, not only on the left side. The pain can last for a few minutes and can reoccur.
5. Stomach Pain
The pain we experience when ill with the flu, ulcer, or even heartburn is similar to the pain associated with a heart attack. Located in the stomach region, the sensation may be a deep pain or an uncomfortable pressure in the pit of the stomach.
Experiencing an overwhelming feeling of being exhausted or tired was found to be one common symptom in the aforementioned survivor study. Nearly 71% reported fatigue was present for more than one month leading up to the incident.
One half of the study group also expressed sleep troubles during this time. The fatigue related to heart attacks is usually so severe that you physically have trouble functioning, let alone walking.
As everyone does not experience the same symptoms, it is important that you seek immediate medical attention with chest discomfort accompanied by any one of these symptoms.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women Over 50
It may sound like a cliché, but women experiencing menopause are at a higher risk for heart attacks. Menopause causes various changes in our bodies including a reduction in estrogen hormone levels, which protect our heart. The heart attack signs in women we have discussed are for women of all ages; however, menopausal and post-menopausal women need to be aware of additional and enhanced symptoms such as:
- Pain or discomfort in arms, stomach, back, neck or jaw
- Severe chest pain
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Profuse sweating
Heart Attack Risk Factors for Women
Women and men face higher risk for heart disease leading to a heart attack with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity. Women have a tendency to be at a higher risk than men with the following disorders and lifestyle choices:
- Inflammatory disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Complications during pregnancy
Women also can suffer from the temporary condition, broken heart syndrome. Caused by stress, this temporary disorder can result in a failure of the heart muscle and is more common in post-menopausal women.
How to Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack in Women
It is never too late to make healthy lifestyle choices and reduce your risk for heart disease or a heart attack.
1. Eat Well
Maintain a good diet of low-fat, low-sodium, and low-cholesterol foods. Avoid foods high in saturated fat such as fried food.
2. Avoid Smoking
Do not smoke. If you are a smoker, seek medical help to quit smoking.
Exercise Regularly – It is important to take time out of your busy day to focus on yourself. Whether it is one 30- to 60-minute workout session or a few mini-sessions throughout the day, do moderate exercise such as brisk walking.
3. Maintain Healthy Weight
People carry their weight differently, so it is important to know what your body mass index (BMI) is. It is recommended to maintain a BMI under 25 to lower your risk for heart disease.
Talk with your doctor about your benefits of taking aspirin, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood thinner medications. Discuss the possibility of adding supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids to your daily intake as well.
The thought of having a heart attack is scary. What is scarier is the fact that you may be having a heart attack without realizing it. If you, or someone you know, have any of the symptoms we covered and a feeling of pressure in the chest, please seek immediate medical attention. When it comes to the matters of the heart, time is of the essence.
The longer you wait, the more damage your heart muscle will endure. Know the symptoms and take steps today to reduce your risk for a heart attack. Your life depends on it.
- How to Protect Yourself From a Silent Heart Attack
- Female Heart Attack Explored by American Heart Association
- Sex Unlikely to Raise Risk of a Heart Attack for Heart Disease Patients, Says Study
“Heart Attack Symptoms in Women,” Med Health; http://www.med-health.net/Heart-Attack-Symptoms-In-Women.html, last accessed February 13, 2017.
“Heart Attack Symptoms in Women,” American Heart Association; https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Heart-Attack-Symptoms-in-Women_UCM_436448_Article.jsp, last accessed February 13, 2017.
Gardner, A., “Heart Attack Signs Every Women Should Know,” Health; http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20644040,00.html, last accessed February 13, 2017.
“Heart Disease in Women: Understand Symptoms and Risk Factors,” Mayo Clinic; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease/art-20046167, last accessed February 13, 2017.