Contrary to popular belief, more women die of heart disease each year than men. Women are also less likely to show up in the emergency room when a heart attack is occurring. When they do seek help, serious damage has often already occurred to the heart.
The symptoms of heart disease in women are not usually the strapping tight pain associated with a heart attack in men. Women are more likely to have blockages in smaller arteries that cause a reduction of blood flow to the heart, resulting in the death of the surrounding heart muscle. Fortunately, women can learn to identify these sometimes-subtle symptoms and seek medical attention. They must also know that seeking help for a false alarm is a better alternative to waiting for the symptoms to subside. Minutes can make a huge difference in the amount of damage that could have been avoided.
Women Have Unique Heart Attack Symptoms
Most symptoms of a heart attack in women include some form of pain, but not all. Here is a compiled list of symptoms that should never be ignored. They all require immediate medical attention:
- Pain in the back, neck, jaw, shoulder or under the arm. This type of pain associated with heart disease is more prevalent with women than men. Although women can experience the elephant-on-the-chest pain that men often do, these less pronounced discomforts are more likely to be present.
- Abdominal discomfort, nausea or vomiting. These symptoms are often confused with indigestion, a virus or the flu. Crushing abdominal pain is often associated with a heart attack in women.
- Shortness of breath or a feeling of shallow breathing. If a you feel as though you just finished a Zumba class doing absolutely nothing, consider it a big fluorescent red flag!
- Sudden and unexplained sweating. This will often be a cold sweat or a stress-type sweat. If a woman does not normally perspire and does for no reason, that is a big warning sign.
- Sudden spells of dizziness or light-headedness.
- Unusual physical fatigue. This is often a feeling when the simplest task, like setting the table, is a tiring chore. It is often described as a tired chest.
These symptoms may occur individually or simultaneously. They can be sudden and intense or strike in varying degrees before becoming acute. Any unusual feeling of something wrong above the waist should be a signal to get to the emergency room. Call 911 right away. Do not try to drive yourself. You could lose consciousness at the wheel, risking the lives of others and yourself. Paramedics can start pretreatment with clot dissolving drugs and monitor signs while in communication with the ER. Early use of these clot busters can save your heart from receiving extensive damage.
Early Detection Methods
Early detection methods like having an annual EKG and nuclear stress test can help, but some signs can still go undetected. A cardio catheterization, where a small camera is inserted into the arteries through the groin or underarm, is the best method to find blockages. However, this procedure is usually only used after a possible heart attack has occurred to open and place stents in blocked arteries.
Prevention is Protection
As with men, women can greatly reduce risk factors by making lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking or getting more aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, swimming, cycling and dancing, will cut the risk of heart disease significantly. So will eating a diet low in fats and high in fiber and vitamins. Proper diet and exercise will help to bring cholesterol to safe levels. If a woman is diagnosed with Familial Hypercholesterolemia (inherited high cholesterol), the best help is available through the Family Heart Foundation. Generally, women respond better to preventative measures than men and have a tendency to stick to a program.