The number one killer of women in the United States is Myocardial Infraction (MI), better known as, a heart attack. Everyone should be educated about this disease so we can better protect our loved ones. Due to atypical symptoms in women, it is critical to know the signs of a heart attack as it could be the difference between life and death. The signs are subtle but the consequences deadly if not acted upon quickly. Women especially, tend to ignore the warning signs often chalking symptoms up to other illnesses such as: the flu, acid reflux or as part of the normal aging process. This could be because most are busy caring for others or because many women do not recognize that their symptoms could in fact be a heart attack. With so many competing priorities women will keep moving and hope that the symptoms will go away. Many will self-medicate with various pain medications to alleviate symptoms; instead of taking that route, seek medical attention. The key is to get help quickly to prevent permanent damage to the heart.
Here is what you should know. The most common signs of a heart attack is pain or discomfort in the chest and upper body. Women can have what is known as a silent heart attack which produces no obvious symptoms. Medical professionals discover silent heart attacks by using an EKG; undetected, symptoms could go on for days, weeks or months.
Silent Heart Attack
Silent heart attacks are more likely to happen in women under the age of 65. Younger women who experience a silent heart attack are more likely to die compared to young men who may have a silent heart attack. Silent heart attacks are most common in women who have diabetes. Diabetes alters the way women feel pain making them less likely to notice the symptoms of a heart attack.
Symptoms of Heart Attacks in Women
The symptoms of a heart attack in women often present themselves differently then how they appear in men. It may look and feel different than their male counterparts. These are the symptoms that are more common among women:
Pain in the back, neck, jaw or throat
Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach)
Problems breathing (shortness of breath)
Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
Because symptoms are can be subtle and different than what men experience, it is important that women talk to their healthcare professional about the signs that pertain specifically to them.
What to do if Heart Attack Symptoms Occur
If you or someone else experiences a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Getting treatment quickly is imperative! Do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital call the ambulance. Reason being, you may require immediate medical assistance in route. With this type of emergency, getting clogged arteries open within the first hour is key to a successful outcome.
You are your best advocate; if you think you’re having a heart attack get emergency help right away. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Know the symptoms of a heart attack and seek medical attention to determine whether you are having one.
Heart Attack Risk Factors You Can’t Control
There are a few factors that are beyond control such as, aging and menopause. Estrogen gives women protection against heart disease by keeping the walls of the arteries relaxed. As women age and lose estrogen those walls become thicker, more rigid and build up plaque that narrows or blocks blood flow. Race and ethnicity also can’t be controlled. American Indian, Alaskan Native and African American women are more likely to suffer from heart disease; it is still the number one killer of white and African American women.
Elflein, J. (2020, February 10). Cardiovascular disease prevalence U.S. by ethnicity and gender 2013-2016. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/671131/cardiovascular-disease-prevalence-us-adults-by-ethnicity-and-gender/
Family Health History is a risk factor as well however, it does not mean that you’ll get heart disease, just that you're more susceptible. This is true for those who have family members who have heart disease from high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes. Gestational high blood pressure is brought on during pregnancy; while not hereditary, is another risk factor that can lead to a heart attack later in life.
One way to keep your heart healthy is to get the blood pumping. Incorporate physical activity such as walking, running, hiking, biking into your lifestyle at least 30 minutes per session a few times per week will do wonders for your heart. Before starting any exercise program please consult your doctor. Making unhealthy food choices also contributes to health problems over time. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist who can help you develop a healthy eating plan. Keep your weight in check. Having a healthy weight can lower your risk of heart disease. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and cholesterol so you know these important numbers and what you need to do to have a healthy heart.