The classic picture for the symptoms of a heart attack looks like this: crushing pain in the center of the chest, radiating down the left arm, accompanied by shortness of breath and profuse sweating. Yes, these are classic symptoms if…
you are a man.
Women sometimes have these same symptoms but more often, the symptoms of a heart attack in a woman can look very, very different from this classic picture, leaving many women to be initially misdiagnosed. Although chest pain (angina) is the common overlapping symptom between heart attacks in women and men, women are more likely to also experience a constellation of other symptoms.
Heart Disease Is Number One
Many people believe that cancer, particularly breast cancer, holds the lead as the most prevalent fatal disease in women. But it’s cardiovascular disease that holds that distinction, and is the number one lethal disease in women, killing approximately one woman every minute!
Black and Hispanic women are at even more risk for cardiovascular disease than Caucasian women. Many Black women are completely unaware they are at increased risk and many Hispanic women, even though they are more likely than other racial groups to take preventative action for their families’ heart health, completely ignore their own health.
Many women put their families first and are much more likely than men to blame their symptoms on anything other than a heart attack, such as the flu, acid reflux or indigestion or even blame their symptoms on just getting older.
While a woman can certainly present with all the “classic” symptoms of a heart attack, it’s important to look at how many women experience this event. Keep in mind that in spite of the dramatic movie scenes in which a man having a heart attack clutches his chest, gasps for air and then collapses in the street, a heart attack doesn’t always make itself known quite so dramatically.
If, as a woman, you do experience the “classic” symptoms they are:
One - an uncomfortable squeezing or pressure in the center of your chest. This can also be experienced as a fullness or even frank pain. This sensation lasts more than just a few minutes or it can go away and then return.
Women are also more likely than men to experience nausea and/or vomiting. Pain can also be in one or both or your arms, in your back, your neck, jaw or even your stomach. You may also experience lightheadedness or even extreme fatigue, and all of these may or may not be accompanied by chest pain.
Call 911 Immediately!
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call emergency services immediately. Do not drive yourself to the hospital. With early diagnosis and rapid treatment, much or all of the heart damage that can occur in a heart attack can be prevented.
Of course, the best thing to do for your health is to prevent heart disease before it happens. See your physician for a checkup to determine if you may be at extra risk. If you smoke, ask your physician for help in stopping and if you use alcohol do so only moderately. High blood pressure and being overweight or obese are also risk factors. Speak to your physician about getting help with these as well. And remember, regular exercise goes a long way to preventing heart disease.
Take the time to put in preventative measures such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress control. Stay heart healthy! As a woman, you owe this to yourself, your family and your community, as you have so much to give.