A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is interrupted or suddenly blocked, depriving the heart of critical oxygen supply. If this condition is not treated promptly, the heart’s muscles begin to die, and timely treatment can prevent or limit this damage. It is worth mentioning that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, killing 299,578 women in 2017 — about 1 in every five female deaths.
Heart Attacks Look Different for Women
It is worth mentioning that heart attacks look different for men and women. Usually, women are less likely to experience classic heart attack symptoms. The most common symptom of a heart attack is mild or intense pain in the center or left side of the chest. This uneasiness may continue for several minutes or come and go. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Some women do have symptoms, but they’re often so mild that they don’t recognize them as coming from their hearts.
However, chest pain is not the only symptom of a heart attack. Some people may not experience any chest pain at all. Experts say that women are more likely to have shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, and back or jaw pain.
Symptoms of Heart Attack
As discussed earlier, chest pain may not always be present when a person suffers a heart attack, and there are many other symptoms in women that you must consider other
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Shortness of breath. This often comes with chest discomfort, but the shortness of breath can also happen before chest discomfort.
- Pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders, back, or throat
- Feeling lightheaded, weak, or faint.
- Extreme fatigue
- Breaking out into a cold sweat
- Stomach pain
A Different Kind of Heart Attack
If your symptoms are mild, a silent heart attack may be causing them. These heart attacks are less likely to cause symptoms. Often, you may not know you have had one until days or even weeks later. Such silent attacks are common in women, especially those under 65 years.
People who have a silent heart attack might later recall having indigestion, the flu, or a strained chest muscle. But a silent heart attack involves blockage of blood flow to your heart and possible damage to the heart muscle, putting you at a greater risk of having another attack which could be deadly and lead to complications such as heart failure.
Your doctor may perform an electrocardiogram to identify whether you have had one, also known as an EKG or ECG. This non-invasive test uses small sensors attached to your chest and arms to record your heart’s electrical activity. If testing does detect a silent heart attack, your doctor may suggest treatments like medication or cardiac rehab.
The risk factors for a silent heart attack are the same as those for a heart attack with symptoms such as age, diabetes, excess weight, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, prior heart attack, tobacco use, etc.
Heart Attack or Something Else
Although a heart attack may be the first thing that comes to mind, other common medical conditions can also cause similar symptoms. However, talk to your doctor or head to the nearest emergency room if you have minor signs. These medical conditions may include:
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Esophageal spasm
- Pulmonary embolism
- Emotional stress
Lowering Your Risk
Staying healthy is easier than you might think. Some of the things that can be done to ensure that your heart is healthy are:
- Avoid smoking. Talk to your healthcare provider about a smoking cessation program.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Exercise regularly. Choose moderate-intensity activities like brisk walking, lifting weights, or swimming 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Try simple home workouts.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit alcohol use. If you drink, stick to one per day (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor)
- Manage blood pressure. Having untreated high blood pressure can put you at a higher risk of a heart attack. Not sure how to keep it under control? Start by talking with your healthcare provider.
- Your doctor can create a plan to help you manage your blood pressure. And, if needed, they can help you lower your cholesterol.
Making a few lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of heart attack and improve your overall health. However, talk to your healthcare provider before you embark on any lifestyle changes. They can work with you to create a customized plan to provide your heart with specialized care.
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