Heart attack signs and symptoms in women
Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, claiming the lives of approximately one million people every year. According to The Heart Foundation, women account for slightly more than half of all heart disease deaths, and worldwide, more than eight million women die from cardiovascular disease. Women also have a higher mortality rate post heart attack at 42 percent compared to men at 24 percent.
Of the eight million women in the U.S. living with heart disease, some 435,000 will have a heart attack this year, and 267,000 will die from that heart attack.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood into the heart muscle. The Mayo Clinic states the interrupted blood flow can destroy or damage a part of the heart muscle, and most individuals who have a heart attack experience serious complications because they do not know the warning signs and therefore do not seek medical quickly.
Though women and men share a similar incidence of heart attacks, the symptoms between the genders are very different.
Much of the public’s common knowledge of heart attacks is based on the male experience, and it is important for women to be aware of what symptoms they should be on the lookout for instead.
What are the warning signs of a heart attack for women?
“Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure,” Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, told the American Heart Association (AHA).“Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.”
The AHA indicates women should be on the watch for signs of:
- Uncomfortable pressure in the chest which comes and goes or remains constant
- Pain or discomfort in the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath without chest pain
- Cold sweat
- Rapid or irregular pulse
Unlike men, the most common symptoms in women are jaw pain, back pain, shortness of breath, and nausea/vomiting.
The NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital states many women confuse the symptoms of a heart attack with common indigestion, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
What women are most at risk for a heart attack?
Women at the highest risk for a heart attack include:
- Women with diabetes
- Post-menopausal women
- Women with a family history of heart disease
- Women with high cholesterol
- Women with high blood pressure
- Women who smoke cigarettes
- Women who drink more than two alcoholic beverages daily
- Women who lead a sedentary lifestyle
- Women who eat diets high in saturated fat
A heart attack can happen to any person, not just those who fit into the above high-risk groups.
Women experiencing unexplained symptoms should immediately seek medical care. Prompt intervention during a heart attack can mean the difference between life and death.