What most people don’t know is that a woman’s symptoms for a heart attack may be much different than a man’s and can go unaddressed with fatal outcomes. That’s why I’m taking this opportunity to talk to my female readers today – and perhaps their husbands, sons, brothers – to explain the 5 top warning symptoms of heart attack in women.
Heart Disease the #1 Killer of Women
Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for people over 40 in the United States. About 1.2 million heart attacks occur in the United States every year and about half of those are fatal. According to Women’s Heart Foundation [Heart Attack Symptoms: An Action Plan for Women], women are the victims of half of those fatal heart attacks. Too often, though, women don’t seek emergency attention as fast as they should because they didn’t recognize their symptoms as a possible heart attack.
Heart attacks occur when blood flow, and the oxygen it contains, is blocked to the heart. This can occur from arterial plaques breaking off, from blood clots that have formed, or from constriction of arteries choking off blood supply. When the heart is deprived of oxygen, the heart’s cells start dying and send out distress signals that can be mild or very intense.
This is your heart’s way of alerting you that you need to do something immediately to stop it from continuing to die. Often, when a woman starts having a heart attack, her symptoms may not seem like a heart attack. If she has pain, it can be much weaker than a man’s and may feel like indigestion, or pinching twinges in her neck or jaw, or some pressure in her upper abdomen, mid chest.
About 16% of people (women and men) don’t experience chest pain at all. More likely, a woman may experience other warning symptoms for a few weeks prior like extreme fatigue, intermittent nausea, with or without vomiting, soreness in her upper arms, or even upper back. Because of the vague and/or mild nature of a woman’s heart attack symptoms, she may hesitate to call 911.
Many times women are found dead at home because of failure to call for help. With that scenario in mind, here are the 5 warning signs you need to be on the lookout for.
The 5 Top Warning Signs of a Woman’s Heart Attack.
1. Fatigue. Many women who have experienced a heart attack often say that for days-to-weeks prior to the event, they were extremely tired most the time. This fatigue is likely a result of a decrease in oxygen to the heart.
2. Shortness of breath. If you start to experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, it could be because your heart is not getting enough oxygen. Yes, other conditions can cause shortness of breath, like an asthma attack, or even low blood sugar, but without history of other conditions, don’t second guess it.
3. Stomach discomfort: Women’s heart attack is often accompanied by a feeling of fullness in the upper abdomen, like indigestion, and/or nausea with or without vomiting.
4. Jaw/throat pain: Often heart distress reactions travel up to the jaw line or even the throat. This can be twinges or a pins and needles sensation along the jaw line, a fullness or pressure feeling in the throat.
5. Arm pain. A classic heart attack symptom, in women and men, is left arm pain. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes pain is felt in the right arm, or upper back, or in both upper arms. A woman might easily dismiss this bi-arm/upper back pain as soreness from lifting something heavy, doing heavier housework that involved over-head cleaning, or sore muscles from exercising.
When to Call 911
If you, your mother, daughter, sister, or friend, complain of feeling unusually fatigued for days or weeks, with recurrent indigestion or nausea, consider this a warning sign to get her, or yourself, to a doctor for an EKG. If ongoing fatigue, and stomach discomfort, is ignored, and any of the other symptoms listed above show up, don’t think twice – call 911 immediately.
It may turn out that you’ve just been over doing it and not getting enough sleep. You may just have sore or pulled muscles, or gotten a stomach bug that’s making you feel a little queasy.
However, doctors in the emergency room would rather treat you for over-exertion and let you go safely on your way than have you on life support with a possible a fatal heart attack. Your loved ones would much rather see you be a little embarrassed about calling 911 than no longer being able to see you at all. Don’t second guess heart attack symptoms ladies – make that call!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Top 5 Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/HeartDiseaseNews/top-symptoms-heart-disease-women/story?id=14009993#.ULjrsGdKzdM
Top 10 Heart Attack Symptoms, http://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/cardiovascular/heart/5-heart-attack-symptoms.htm photo credit: 123rf.com