How Men And Women Experience Heart Attack
Women and men can experience the signs and symptoms of a heart attack differently.
Men may experience:
- shortness of breath
Although chest pain is thought to be the most common symptom of heart attack and it is common in men only about half of all women who have a heart attack actually report chest pain.
I Thought I Had The Flu
Even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, women often chalk up the symptoms to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu or normal aging.
They do this because they are scared and because they put their families first, Goldberg said. There are still many women who are shocked that they could be having a heart attack.
A heart attack strikes someone 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 buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances .
Watch an animation of a heart attack.
Many women think the signs of a heart attack are unmistakable the image of the elephant comes to mind but in fact they can be subtler and sometimes confusing.
You could feel so short of breath, as though you ran a marathon, but you haven’t made a move, Goldberg said.
Some women experiencing a heart attack describe upper back pressure that feels like squeezing or a rope being tied around them, Goldberg said. Dizziness, lightheadedness or actually fainting are other symptoms to look for.
Many women I see take an aspirin if they think they are having a heart attack and never call 911, Goldberg said. But if they think about taking an aspirin for their heart attack, they should also call 911.
Indigestion Nausea And Vomiting
Another common symptom of heart attack in women is indigestion, nausea or vomiting. Women may experience any or all of these symptoms during a heart attack.
Stomach ailments can be associated with a number of other diseases and illnesses, but in this case, it is much more important to pay attention to your body if you experience this symptom in combination with any of the other symptoms described.
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When Should You See Your Doctor
Its always better to err on the side of caution if something doesnt feel right. If you have noticed that you are shorter of breath with regular activity, you should go to your general doctor or your cardiologist, says Dr. Cho. It depends on the severity and the acuteness if it has started recently or not.
When you do visit, be sure to:
- Bring a list of your symptoms and when they are occurring.
- Let them know about any related family history of heart disease.
- Talk about stress or anything going on in your life that might contribute to a problem.
Your doctor likely will listen to your symptoms and check your pulse and blood pressure. They may order blood work, which will show whether your heart is damaged. They also may use an electrocardiogram to tell whether the electrical activity of your heart is normal, or an echocardiogram to view images of the heart to see if damage has occurred. Some patients may get stress tests, a coronary computed tomography angiogram or a cardiac catheterization.All of this is important in identifying any problems and taking steps to intervene before a possible heart attack.
What Are The Symptoms Of Heart Attack
The major symptoms of a heart attack are
- Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
- Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.
Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms. Learn more about women and heart disease.
Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.1Learn more facts about heart attack and heart disease.
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Preventing Heart Disease In Women And Men
Women often focus on looking after partners, children or ageing parents, but it’s important for women also to prioritise their own health.
In Australia, 9 in every 10 women have one risk factor for heart disease, and half of all women have 2 or 3 risk factors. The risk factors for heart disease in both in women and men include high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Women can also have the added risk factors of pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes , which may increase the chances of developing heart disease later in life.
Whether you’re a woman or a man, you will reduce your risk of developing heart disease if you:
- know the risk factors for heart disease
- talk to your doctor about ‘cardiovascular screening’ based on your family history and risk factors
The Heart Attack Symptoms You Should Know About
These apparent differences in men’s and women’s heart attack symptoms have been known among researchers for a long time, and that knowledge should be applied clinically when diagnosing patients, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone in New York, who was not involved in the new study.
“I’m not surprised by the findings, but I’m still disappointed that both women and their health care providers are less likely to attribute early symptoms to heart attack compared with men,” Goldberg said.
“The take-home message for this is that men and women have to be aware of all the symptoms of heart attack,” as do health care providers, she said. “Obviously, we need to do a better job.”
Heart attack symptoms that are not related to chest pain can include shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness, according to the American Heart Association.
Goldberg added that anywhere above the waist “is fair game” to those symptoms of feeling uncomfortable pressure, tightness or pain.
“The pain and discomfort is in the jaw, neck or in the arms and those sorts of places — like between the shoulder blades or upper back — they can experience that tightness or pressure,” Goldberg said.
“Often, the women are not told that and told they need to check with a physician,” Wenger said. “So there is a population of women, many of them whom may be younger, who are at an increased risk.”
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Heart Attack Treatment For Women
The treatment for heart attack in women is the same as it is for men.
A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that women having a heart attack were 50% more likely than men to be misdiagnosed, leading to a delay in treatment and poorer outcomes. However there is no evidence to show that the same is true for New Zealand women.
Do Hormones Affect Your Risk Of A Heart Attack
Many women use prescription hormone drugs for birth control or for reducingsymptoms of menopause . Could thesedrugs jeopardize your heart health?
“Birth control pills can increase your risk of having a blood clot, eitherin the heart or in the legs, and they can also raise your blood pressure.So, if you have a history of high blood pressure or clotting problems,other types of contraception might be a better fit for you,” says Colliver.”But for most young women, it’s safe to take birth control medication.”
Colliver notes that women over the age of 50 are at an increased risk forheart disease and should completely avoid estrogen and progesterone drugs,if possible. “If your overall risk of heart attack is extremely low and youdesperately need relief from hot flashes and other postmenopausal symptoms,then hormone replacement therapy may be fine for you,” says Colliver. “Butafter the age of 65, we really try to avoid using them at all because theydo increase the risk of heart disease and potentially breast cancer.”
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Causes And Risk Factors
Risk factors such as age, lifestyle habits, and other health conditions affect men and women differently.
- Women may get heart attacks at older ages than men do.
- Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high blood sugar, obesity, and stress raise the risk of a heart attack more in women than in men.
- Women are more likely than men to have heart attacks that are not caused by coronary artery disease. This can make it more difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose heart attacks in women.
- Women have more health problems after having a heart attack than men do.
Learn about how women can prevent heart disease.
Heart Attack Symptoms Are They Different For Men And Women
Three minute read
Every year, more than one million people in the U.S. suffer from a heart attack. This means every 40 seconds someone in the US experiences congestive heart failure. Although heart disease death rates have fallen steadily for men, the rates for women have decreased only slightly.
Why is there such a discrepancy between men and women? A lot of it has to do with the variances in symptoms of heart attacks for each gender.
Difference in heart attack symptoms for men and women
Chest tightening, sweating and pain in the shoulder and arm are the most well-known symptoms of a heart attack. For years, many believed these were the only symptoms to look out for, but as we learn more about cardiovascular disease, we find that there are significant differences in how men and women experience a heart attack.
Warning signs in men
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men. In fact, 1 in every 4 males die from a heart attack. Men also experience heart attacks earlier in life compared to women. Men exhibit the following symptoms during a heart attack:
- Chest pain/tightening that feels like an elephant sitting on your chest. Also, a squeezing sensation that comes and goes or remains constant
- Upper body pain in the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Rapid heartbeats
- Cold sweat
Warning signs in women
Women are less likely to seek treatment
What to do if you think youre having a heart attack
Schedule regular check-ups
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What To Do If You Notice Heart Attack Symptoms
If you do suspect you might have heart attack symptoms and some do appear weeks or months before a heart attack dont discount them out of hand or let them linger for too long. Women often think its something else, says Dr. Cho. The sad thing is, women do tend to have more blockages in their heart when they do need to have something done.
In fact, women tend to get heart disease later than men do. Men get in their 50s and 60s, and women get it in their 60s and 70s, says Dr. Cho. Women always get it 10 years later because of the effect of estrogen.The sooner you report a problem, the better chance you have of catching an issue before it becomes a full-blown heart attack. If you experience any of these symptoms, take note and visit your doctor as quickly as possible. Its very important that you not become your own doctor but let somebody else be your doctor, Dr. Cho says.
What Not To Do
If you feel heart attack symptoms:
- Donât delay getting help. “Women generally wait longer than men before going to the emergency room,” says Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, FACC, director of Women’s Cardiovascular Services for the UCSF Division of Cardiology in San Francisco. Even if you think your symptoms arenât that bad or will pass, the stakes are too high.
- Don’t drive yourself to the hospital. You need an ambulance. If you drive, you could have a wreck on the way and possibly hurt yourself or someone else.
- Donât have a friend or relative drive you, either. You may not get there fast enough.
- Donât dismiss what you feel. “Don’t worry about feeling silly if you’re wrong,” Goldberg says. You have to get it checked out right away.
“People don’t want to spend hours in an emergency room if it isn’t a heart attack,” Bairey Merz says. “But women are actually good at deciding what is typical for themselves and when to seek health care.”
Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director, Joan H. Tisch Center for Womenâs Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York.
C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, FACC, FAHA, director, Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center director, Preventive Cardiac Center professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.
Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, FACC, director, Women’s Cardiovascular Services, UCSF division of cardiology professor of medicine, UCSF School of Medicine, San Francisco editor, JAMA Internal Medicine.
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Heart Attack Symptoms Go Beyond Chest Pain
Portrayals in movies and TV shows often make heart attacks look like sudden, crushing chest pain. While chest discomfort, pressure, or pain are common symptoms of heart attack, they arent the only ones.
Women are more likely than men to have more subtle heart attack symptoms that may be unrelated to the chest. You could be having a heart attack if you experience pain in your:
Symptoms can be vague, and many women brush them off because theyre not widely known as signs of a heart attack. Learning to recognize the more subtle symptoms can help you identify a cardiac event sooner before permanent damage occurs.
Dont Hesitate To Call 911
You might not have all of these heart attack warning signs. But if youre having any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Dont wait.
In her work, Dr. Lee has seen both younger and older women put off going to the doctor even when theyre feeling heart attack symptoms. Young women are often focused on being the caretaker for their children or elderly parents, and they dont come into the hospital because theres no one else to take care of their children or parents, she says.
On the flip side, Dr. Lee has seen older women who are widowed and live alone not want to bother their children or friends. These women may be having chest pain, but they dont want to bother people. So they sit at home and hope the symptoms go away, she says. Sometimes, they dont drive and are too embarrassed to ask for help.
I think a lot of times women are used to being the caregivers, so when they themselves need help they arent used to asking for it, Dr. Lee says. This could be another reason why women wait so long to get care for heart attacks.
But its important to listen to your body and prioritize your health.
Bottom line: If youre not sure if youre having a heart attack, come into the hospital to get checked out. The earlier you come in for medical care, Dr. Lee says, the earlier we can start therapy and the less damage there will be to the heart.
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What Are The Risk Factors For Heart Attack
Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attack. These are called risk factors. About half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking.2
Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.
Learn more about risk factors for heart disease and heart attack.
Increased Risk In Women
Whilst symptoms for men and women are often the same for a stroke, women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke and have a number of gender-specific risk factors. Many of these risk factors for stroke also increase womens risk of heart disease. In Australia, 9 in every 10 women have one risk factor for heart disease, and half of all women have 2 or 3 risk factors.
Factors which specifically increase womens risk of stroke include:
- Migraines with visual aura such as flashing lights, blind spots, difficulty focusing on things this is a risk, especially if combined with smoking and the oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy.
- Some types of the oral contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy used to treat menopausal symptoms can increase the likelihood of blood clotting and so increase the risk of stroke in some women.
Other risk factors for stroke and heart disease affecting women include:
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‘a Young Woman Has A Higher Risk Of Mortality’
The new study highlights how most women and men both experience chest pain as the predominant symptom of a heart attack, but women tend to experience a greater number of additional non-chest pain symptoms.
Those additional symptoms in women can be dangerously misunderstood.
“The backdrop for all of this is the fact that a young woman who is hospitalized with a heart attack has a higher risk of mortality than a similarly aged man in this age group of 18 to 55,” said Judith Lichtman, associate professor in the department of chronic disease epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health and lead author of the study.
Though the study does not dive into the scale of that increased risk, a previous report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that between 2001 and 2010, the rate of in-hospital heart attack deaths for women ranged from 3.3% to 2.3%, whereas the rate for men ranged from 2% to 1.8%.
Not getting care for heart attack symptoms could result in complications, such as an arrhythmia or abnormal heartbeat, heart failure, heart rupture or even death.
Heart attacks most often occur as a result of coronary heart disease, when a part of the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood.
Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every seven minutes, someone in the United Kingdom will have a heart attack, according to the charity Heart UK.