Heart Attack Or Something Else
Although a heart attack may be the first thing that comes to mind, other common medical conditions can cause similar symptoms.
Dr. Vaishnav notes these conditions can mimic a heart attack:
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Pulmonary embolism
- Emotional stress
If you’re having symptoms, even minor ones, talk to your doctor or head to the nearest emergency room.
Wed much rather you get checked and be fine, Dr. Vaishnav says.
Mayo Clinic Q And A: Heart Attack Symptoms In Women
DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Is it true that women have different symptoms of a heart attack than men? If so, why does this happen, and what are the symptoms in women?
ANSWER: Heart attack symptoms in women can be similar to those in men, but there are some crucial differences. Womens symptoms tend to be more subtle and may be more ambiguous. Along with being able to recognize possible heart attack symptoms, as a woman, its also important to understand your own personal risk factors for heart disease and to get help right away if you suspect a heart attack.
Although it may not be the first disorder that comes to mind when you think of womens health issues, heart disease is the leading cause of death in both women and men in the U.S. And a 2016 research study found that women die more often than men from heart disease.
With those sobering statistics in mind, the importance of knowing what to look for when it comes to a heart attack cant be overstated. Many are familiar with the hallmark symptoms of a heart attack: crushing chest pain, pain radiating down one arm, nausea and vomiting. Women who have a heart attack may experience all of these symptoms. But they are often less obvious than when they happen in men.
Complications Of A Heart Attack
Complications of a heart attack can be serious and possibly life threatening.
- arrhythmias these are abnormal heartbeats. 1 type is where the heart begins beating faster and faster, then stops beating
- cardiogenic shock where the heart’s muscles are severely damaged and can no longer contract properly to supply enough blood to maintain many body functions
- heart rupture where the heart’s muscles, walls or valves split apart
These complications can happen quickly after a heart attack and are a leading cause of death.
Many people die suddenly from a complication of a heart attack before reaching hospital or within the 1st month after a heart attack.
The outlook often depends on:
- age serious complications are more likely as you get older
- the severity of the heart attack how much of the heart’s muscle has been damaged during the attack
- how long it took before a person received treatment treatment for a heart attack should begin as soon as possible
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Shoulder Pain From Heart Attack
Although heart attack is most commonly associated with chest pain, it can also cause pain or discomfort in other parts of the body, including the shoulder.
Both women and men may experience shoulder pain during a heart attack. Some research suggests shoulder pain during a heart attack may be more common in women than men.
A 2018 study looked at 532 people who had an ST-elevation myocardial infarction , a type of heart attack that affects the whole heart muscle wall. Shoulder pain was twice as common in women than men. Throat and back pain were also more common in women.
Heart attack in men usually causes chest pain or discomfort, which may feel like pain, heaviness, pressure, fullness, squeezing, or heartburn. It typically lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away but returns again.
Heart Attacks Striking Younger Women
Younger women are having more heart attacks, says a recent study.Researchers were surprised to find that while the heart attack rate hasdecreased among older adults, it’s risen among those ages 35-54, especiallywomen. TheAtherosclerosis Risk in Communities studyreviewed more than 28,000 hospitalizations for heart attacks in fourcities.
“This observational study found a trend in young women,” saysVirginia Colliver, M.D., cardiologist withJohns Hopkins Community Physicians-Heart Carein Bethesda, Maryland. “But the research doesn’t provide insight into whythe uptick in heart attacks is happening to younger people. I suspect ithas to do with more people having risk factors for heart disease at anearlier age.”
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When To Call 911
If you suspect that you or someone else might be having a heart attack, call 911 or local emergency services right away. Immediate treatment can be lifesaving.
Long-term follow-up care is also important to improve outcomes.
Heart attack causes damage to your heart muscle, which can lead to potentially life threatening complications. Although more research is needed, some complications appear to be more common in women than men.
According to a 2016 review from the AHA, women are more likely than men to develop symptoms of heart failure following a heart attack. They also have a higher risk of death in the months and years following a heart attack.
The review found that 26 percent of women and 19 percent of men die within 1 year following a first heart attack, and 47 percent of women and 36 percent of men die within 5 years.
Some for these gender differences include:
- There may be a delay in recognizing womens symptoms.
- Women may be undertreated.
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Heart Attacks In Women
Although hard-to-read heart attacks happen to both men and women, they are more common in women. One reason for this is that men’s symptoms initially set the standard for recognizing heart trouble. Now a growing body of research shows that women can experience heart attacks differently than men.
Understanding sex differences in heart disease is important. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Although it mostly affects older women, it isn’t rare in younger women. One in 10 of all women who die from heart disease or a stroke are under age 65, and this age group accounts for one-third of heart- or stroke-related hospitalizations. Even so, younger women and their doctors don’t necessarily suspect a heart attack even when all the signs are there.
In a survey of more than 500 women who survived heart attacks, 95% of them said they noticed that something wasn’t right in the month or so before their heart attacks. Two most common early warning signs were fatigue and disturbed sleep. Some women, for example, said they were so tired they couldn’t make a bed without resting.
Chest pain, a common early warning sign of heart trouble for men, was further down the list for these women. Those who did have it tended to describe it as pressure, aching, or tightness in the chest, not pain.
What Can I Do To Recover After A Heart Attack
Take our quiz to see how much you know about cardiac rehabilitation.
If youve had a heart attack, your heart may be damaged. This could affect your hearts rhythm and its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. You may also be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke, kidney disorders, and peripheral arterial disease .
You can lower your chances of having future health problems following a heart attack with these steps:
- Physical activityTalk with your health care team about the things you do each day in your life and work. Your doctor may want you to limit work, travel, or sexual activity for some time after a heart attack.
- Lifestyle changesEating a healthier diet, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking, and managing stressin addition to taking prescribed medicinescan help improve your heart health and quality of life. Ask your health care team about attending a program called cardiac rehabilitation to help you make these lifestyle changes.
- Cardiac rehabilitationCardiac rehabilitation is an important program for anyone recovering from a heart attack, heart failure, or other heart problem that required surgery or medical care. Cardiac rehab is a supervised program that includes
- Physical activity
- Education about healthy living, including healthy eating, taking medicine as prescribed, and ways to help you quit smoking
- Counseling to find ways to relieve stress and improve mental health
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Heart Attack Testing: Faq
Q: Why do I have to submit to a bunch of tests?A: Tests help the doctor determine if a heart attack occurred, how much your heart was damaged and what degree of coronary artery disease you might have. The tests screen your heart and help the doctor determine what treatment and lifestyle changes will keep your heart healthy and prevent serious future medical events.
Q: Whats the difference between invasive and non-invasive tests?A: Non-invasive cardiac tests measure your hearts activity through external imaging and electrocardiography. Invasive tests include drawing and testing samples of your blood, and inserting and threading a thin hollow tube called a catheter into a blood vessel to get an inside view.
Q: How can I learn more about the tests that may be performed?A: These diagnostic tests and procedures can reveal if you had a heart attack, how much damage was done and what degree of coronary artery disease you have.
Q: What types of treatment will I get after the hospital diagnoses my heart attack?A: If youve had a heart attack, you may have already had undergone certain procedures to help you survive your heart attack. Those same procedures can help to diagnose your condition. Such procedures include:
Additional Heart Attack Symptoms That Women May Experience
In addition to the common heart attack symptoms, women may experience one or more of the following:
- Tightness, squeezing or pressure in the chest, throat, upper abdomen or neck
- Nausea and indigestion-like symptoms, including heartburn or an upset stomach
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting or sweating that occurs with or without chest pain
- Numbing or tingling sensation in the left arm
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath that occurs with or without exertion
- Waking during the night out of breath
- Unexplained severe anxiety, fatigue or overall lack of energy
Want to know more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free HeartAware online risk assessment. Learn more about our cardiac care at UNC Rex Healthcare and UNC Medical Center or find a cardiologist near you.
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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.
Seek Care For Subtle Symptoms
After two hours without treatment following a heart attack, youre much more at risk of severe heart damage and death.
At the emergency room, its vital that you mention all of the symptoms you have, even if they might not seem related, such as unexplained pain in your extremities. If you experience a cluster of heart attack symptoms and explain only some of them at the hospital, its possible the doctor wont connect the dots that youre having a heart attack.
Many of my patients are women who havent previously had heart troubles in their lives. Theyre surprised when I describe subtle heart attack symptoms that sound like what theyve experienced, especially if they have seen another doctor who didnt recognize that something was wrong.
As cardiologists, we need to listen carefully when women describe their symptoms and do a better job of matching their subjective experience with the standard symptoms of heart attacks. No one should suffer debilitating consequences from a heart attack because she experienced nontraditional symptoms. If youre concerned about your heart health, request an appointment with a cardiologist.
If you feel fine but then develop a cluster of sudden, unexplained symptoms, seek emergency medical attention. Less severe symptoms dont mean a less severe heart attack.
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Preventing Heart Attacks By Understanding Cardiovascular Risks
Do you know that heart attacks have “beginnings” that can occur days or weeks before an actual attack? It is important to recognize these beginnings, with the help of an EHAC doctor, to help prevent the actual attack and its potential health consequences. People often mistake the early warning signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain, for heartburn or pulled a muscle. The unfortunate outcome is that many people wait too long before getting help.
At The Hospitals of Providence, we have an EHAC program delivered by a team of cardiologists, nurses and staff who are dedicated to helping men and women recognize the early warning signs of a heart attack. We provide care and treatment options for these signs and help prevent the emergency from happening.
Let’s Win This Together
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Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure, said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYUs Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association volunteer. Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.
Even when the signs are subtle, the consequences can be deadly, especially if the victim doesnt get help right away.
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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.
Diseases That Raise Womens Heart Attack Risk
One reason womens heart attack symptoms can vary so much is that women are more susceptible to different types of heart disease than men, which can lead to heart attacks with different symptoms. Learn about preventing heart disease.
Heres an example. Plaque buildup can occur in the smallest arteries and reduce blood flow to the heart a condition called coronary microvascular disease . MVD can increase your risk for a heart attack, and women are more likely to develop this disease than men, particularly women with lower estrogen levels before menopause. Symptoms of this disease usually feel like a slight squeezing in the chest or shortness of breath. These symptoms often appear during the carrying out of everyday tasks rather than intense physical activity.
Another disease that can raise womens risk of heart disease and subsequent heart attacks is diabetes. According to a study in the European Heart Journal, women with diabetes are more likely to die from ischemic heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, than men with diabetes.
Heart attack symptoms among women who have conditions like MVD and diabetes are not always severe or immediately debilitating but theyre just as serious as the elephant-on-your-chest pressure that everyone knows about.
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Early Symptoms Of A Heart Attack
A lot of heart damage happens in the first 2 hours following a heart attack, which means that paying attention to any early symptoms is critical. The sooner you receive help for a heart attack, the better.
According to the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care, early heart attack symptoms may occur in 50 percent of all people who have heart attacks.
Early symptoms of heart attack can include the following:
- mild pain or discomfort in your chest that may come and go, which is also called stuttering chest pain
nearly twice the rate that women do. Men also have heart attacks earlier in life compared to women. If you have a family history of heart disease or a history of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, or other risk factors, your chances of having a heart attack are even higher.
Symptoms of a heart attack in men include:
- standard chest pain/pressure that feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest, with a squeezing sensation, heaviness, or pressure in the chest that may come and go or remain constant and intense
- upper body pain or discomfort, including arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- rapid or irregular heartbeat
- stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion
- shortness of breath, which may leave you feeling like you cant get enough air, even when youre resting
- dizziness or feeling like youre going to pass out
- breaking out in a cold sweat