Women and Heart Attacks
Q: I've heard that women have different symptoms and are at a higher risk of dying of a heart attack then men. What are the symptoms?
A: In the United States 1 in 4 women will die of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women yet women often seek medical care later than men because they do not recognize their symptoms as serious or they are not accurately diagnosed by their doctors. Heart disease also tends to develop later in women possibly due to a drop in estrogen levels.
Coronary heart disease begins when plaque, made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances, builds up on the inner wall of the arteries surrounding the heart. Plaque can restrict the amount of oxygen-rich blood that can reach the heart muscle. If a blood clot forms and breaks free it can cause a heart attack and damage to the heart muscle.
Signs and Symptoms of a heart attack include:
• Discomfort, tightness, or an uncomfortable pressure in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes that comes and goes
• Crushing chest pain
• Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw or arms
• Dizziness or nausea
• Feeling clammy, heart flutters or paleness
• Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue, or weakness
• Stomach or abdominal pain
• Difficulty breathing
The sooner you recognize any of these symptoms and seek medical treatment the better your outcome will be. Some women only have a few symptoms and some may have all of these symptoms - not every woman's experience is the same and may differ from that of a man. Many women think the only sure sign of a heart attack is crushing chest pain but that is not true.
The good news is that lifestyle changes, medicine, and medical or surgical procedures can help women lower their risk for heart attack and decrease the chance that any existing heart disease will worsen.
For more information about heart attacks in women, talk to your doctor or call 330-263-8282.
Written by Joel Chupp, RN, Manager of Cardiac Services
Wooster Community Hospital