We’ve all seen the stereotypical movie scenes where a man gasps,
clutches his chest and falls to the ground. In reality, a heart attack
victim could easily be a woman, and the scene may not be that dramatic
as heart attacks strike quite differently in women and men. Although heart
disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, the American
Heart Association warns that women frequently overlook heart attack symptoms
by attributing them to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux,
the flu or normal aging.
“Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels
like an elephant sitting across the chest, women often experience a heart
attack without chest pressure, ” said
Jeff Neal, DO, PharmD, Catawba Valley Cardiology. “Instead women often suffer more subtle symptoms that are ignored
until it’s too late.”
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart
muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because
the arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly narrow from a
buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances (plaque).
To help clarify these less obvious and potentially confusing symptoms
for women, Dr. Neal offers the following eight heart attack red flags
- Breathing Difficulties – Shortness of breath is a common and very
frightening precursor to a heart attack if you’re a woman. It may
come on suddenly and without warning (i.e., not following physical activity),
for no apparent reason. Imagine gasping for air like you’ve just
run up a few flights of stairs when you’re sitting stationary.
- Heavy Perspiration – You might break out into a cold-clammy sweat
when you have to present at a company meeting. However, many women suffering
a heart attack start perspiring without any stressors present. The problem
is women often mistake this as a hot flash or blame it on their menstrual cycle.
- Disrupted Sleep – Women who’ve suffered a heart attack often
recall waking up in the middle of a deep sleep unable to catch their breath.
This form of sleep apnea can occur during a heart attack, compressing
the upper airway and robbing the heart of essential blood flow.
- Exhaustion – We all experience exhaustion when burning the candle
at both ends. Women are notorious for taking care of everyone else, but
not themselves. Heart attacks are sneaky in this regard, zapping women
of energy, even when they’ve been getting adequate sleep and eating right.
- Stomach Cramps – Abdominal pain that is disregarded with the thought,
“it must be something I ate!” often ends in a heart attack
for unsuspecting women. So what you might brush off as heartburn or a
nasty stomach bug may actually be a more sinister heart issue.
Sharp Upper Body Pain – While men may feel “the weight of an
elephant” sitting on their chests—heart attacks for women
often cause sharp pains in the upper body. It’s common for women
to complain of sharp, shooting pain or dull, gradually mounting pain in the neck, upper
arms, or jaw. Regardless, the pain can be so strong that it wakes you
- Rapid Heart Rate – An intensely rushing heartbeat will commonly accompany
feelings of intense anxiety and sweating in women suffering a heart attack.
In fact, you might think you’re having an anxiety attack, because
it strikes suddenly, your heart overexerting, during a non-stressful endeavor.
- Chest Pain – While men often experience crushing chest pain during
a heart attack, the chest pain reported in women leading up to and during
a heart attack is frequently described as less intense. Instead of pain,
women often experience a feeling of tight discomfort that is commonly
described as a full feeling across the entire chest, not solely on the
left side of the chest.
Keep in mind, there’s no simple deciding factor as to whether or
not you might be having a heart attack based on one, or more, of these
symptoms alone. “To distinguish whether these problems are related
to a possible heart attack, an electrocardiogram, blood tests, or imaging
studies are usually required and typically these are only available in
a medical environment,” Dr. Neal says. “So, if you are concerned
that you might be suffering from a heart attack, immediately contact your
medical provider, go to an emergency room, or call 911.”
2017 is your year to become heart healthy. If you are at risk, think you
may be at risk or want to learn more about how to reduce your risk for
heart disease, consult your primary care provider or visit
Catawba Valley Cardiology online. With over 110+ years of combined experience, we are ready to serve
as your first line of defense in guarding your most valuable possession
of all: your HEART!
Source: American Heart Association