Women: Be alert to unique heart attack symptoms
It's not always the overweight, middle-aged man who has a heart attack. Sometimes it's the active woman of any age, who is otherwise in good health.
Although men and women can experience pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure, UHS heart experts say.
Instead, women may experience shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, extreme fatigue or upper back pressure and, if they do have chest-area pain or pressure, it might appear in the lower chest or upper abdomen, they note.
Even when the signs are subtle, the consequences can be deadly, especially if the victim doesn’t get help right away. And even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, women often chalk up heart attack symptoms to less life-threatening conditions, such as acid reflux, the flu or normal aging, the American Heart Association reports.
A heart attack strikes someone in the U.S. about every 43 seconds. It 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 build-up of fat, cholesterol or plaque.
To do all that you can to prevent an attack, UHS and American Heart Association experts recommend the following:
- Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to learn your personal risk for heart disease.
- If you smoke, quit (and if you don't smoke, don't start). Within just one year of quitting, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.
- Start an exercise program. Walking just 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Modify your family’s diet if needed. Check out these healthy cooking tips.
When a woman has a heart attack
These signs or symptoms may be present:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs, such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you have any of these signs or symptoms, call 911 right away.
For more information on Cardiac Care at UHS, click here.