A Different Kind Of Heart Attack
If you have mild symptoms, they may be caused by a silent heart attack. These heart attacks are less likely to cause symptoms. Often, you may not know youve had one until days or even weeks later.
Theyre more common in women, particularly women under 65.
To identify whether youve had one, your doctor may perform an electrocardiogram, also called an EKG or ECG. This non-invasive test uses small sensors attached to your chest and arms to record your hearts electrical activity.
If testing does detect a silent heart attack, your doctor may suggest treatments like medication or cardiac rehab.
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Weve all seen the movie scenes where a man gasps, clutches his chest and falls to the ground. In reality, a heart attack victim could easily be a woman, and the scene may not be that dramatic.
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.
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.
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Signs And Symptoms Of A Heart Attack In Women
Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person but the most common signs of a heart attack are:
- chest pain or discomfort in your chest that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing
- the pain may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach
- you may also feel sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath.
Other less common symptoms include:
- a sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
- excessive coughing or wheezing
If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 999 for an ambulance immediately.
Women may be less likely to seek medical attention and treatment quickly, despite the warning signs. This can dramatically reduce your chance of survival. Rapid treatment is essential, and the aim is to restore blood flow to the affected part of the heart muscle as soon as possible. This helps to limit the amount of damage to the heart.
- Learn more about heart attack symptoms.
Taking Your Health To Heart
Its important to understand your risk factors and be aware of common heart attack symptoms. Another way you can take care of your heart health is by focusing on prevention. You can find more heart-healthy lifestyle tips, as well as evidence-based treatments for cardiac care, on our heart health guide.
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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.
Pregnancy And Heart Disease
From the early stages of pregnancy there are lots of changes in a womans body, including to the heart. The heart needs to work harder, pumping up to 50% more blood volume than normal. The blood is also more prone to clotting. There are extra demands on your heart around the time of birth. These demands can cause greater stress on your heart.
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When Should I See My Doctor
If calling triple zero does not work on your mobile, try calling 112. Early treatment could save a life.
See your doctor regularly to manage your general health, test for heart disease risk factors and help you take steps to prevent a heart attack.
Women Face Longer Waits And Slower Diagnosis
In a study , researchers analyzed data on millions of emergency room visits before the pandemic and found that women and especially women of color who complained of chest pain had to wait an average of 11 minutes longer to see a doctor or nurse than men who complained of similar symptoms. Women were less likely to be admitted to the hospital, they received less thorough evaluations and they were less likely to be administered tests like an electrocardiogram, or EKG, which can detect cardiac problems.
Dr. Alexandra Lansky, a cardiologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, recalled one patient who had gone to multiple doctors complaining of jaw pain, only to be referred to a dentist, who extracted two molars. When the jaw pain didnt go away, the woman went to see Dr. Lansky, who discovered the problem was heart related. She ended up having bypass surgery because the jaw pain was heart disease, said Dr. Lansky, who directs the Yale Cardiovascular Research Center.
Ultimately, 72 percent of women who had a heart attack waited more than 90 minutes to go to a hospital or call 911, compared to 54 percent of men. Slightly more than half of the women called a relative or a friend before dialing 911 or going to a hospital, compared to 36 percent of the men.
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Recovering From A Heart Attack
The time it takes to recover from a heart attack will depend on the amount of damage to your heart muscle.
Most people can return to work after having a heart attack. Some people are well enough to return to work after 2 weeks. Other people may take several months to recover. How quickly you can go back to work depends on your health, the state of your heart and the type of work you do.
The recovery process aims to:
- reduce your risk of another heart attack through a combination of lifestyle changes , and medicines , which help to lower blood cholesterol levels
- gradually restore your physical fitness so you can resume normal activities
What Is A Heart Attack
Heart attack signs and symptoms in men and women: Chest pain or discomfort Shortness of breath Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, arm, or shoulder Feeling nauseous, light-headed, or unusually tired.
A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, happens when a part of the heart muscle doesnt get enough blood.
The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle.
Coronary artery disease is the main cause of heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm, or sudden contraction, of a coronary artery that can stop blood flow to the heart muscle.
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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 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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Symptoms Vary Between Men And Women
As with men, womens 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.
Testing: What To Expect
The hours following a heart attack can be scary and confusing. Your medical team may be incredibly busy and focused, and hard-pressed to explain everything thats happening.
You and your caregivers are sure to have questions. You may wonder about the tests and procedures that are being performed.
In the section below, youll find descriptions of the kinds of diagnostic procedures you may encounter as your doctors strive to identify the underlying causes of your heart attack.
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Are You Finding It Hard To Get Medical Help
We know that many of you are experiencing delays to treatment at this time, or have questions and concerns about getting medical help. We’ve created this set of information to help you with these issues.
If you are having emergency heart attack symptoms, do not wait for an appointment and call 999 immediately.
- being overweight
- not doing enough physical activity.
Identifying and managing risk factors early on could help lower your risk of a heart attack in the future.
- Get tips and advice on healthy living.
We recommend that all women over the age of 40 visit their local GP or nurse for a health check to check their cardiovascular risk. If you’re aged 4074 and living in England, you can ask for an NHS health check. Similar schemes are also available in other parts of the UK.Your doctor should invite you to review your risk every five years, but you can also just make an appointment yourself to check your blood pressure and cholesterol. This check might help to highlight anything that could put you at increased risk of having a heart attack.
If you have a family history of heart or circulatory disease make sure you tell your doctor or nurse. You’re considered to have a family history of heart or circulatory disease if:
- your father or brother was under the age of 55 when they were diagnosed with a heart or circulatory disease or
- your mother or sister was under the age of 65 when they were diagnosed with a heart or circulatory disease.
What To Do During A Heart Attack
According to Go Red for Women, if you experience heart attack signs or symptoms:
- Do not wait to call for help. Dial 9-1-1, make sure to follow the operators instructions and get to a hospital right away.
- Do not drive yourself. Have someone drive you to the hospital, unless you have no other choice.
Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for the emergency responders.
Women often misdiagnose the symptoms of a heart attack because theyâre unaware of the signs or they consider themselves healthy and donât think it could happen to them. Thatâs why itâs so important to learn about heart disease and stroke, know your numbers, live a heart-healthy lifestyle and be aware of the risk factors of heart disease.
Â© 2022 Regence health plans are Independent Licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association serving members in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and select counties of Washington.
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Why Are Heart Attack Symptoms In Women Important
There is also still a lot of research to be done regarding heart attack symptoms in women. But itâs important to research because women seem to have more subtle symptoms than men and often donât get diagnosed correctlyââleading to potentially fatal results.
The differences in symptoms from person to person depending on health conditions, lifestyle, age, and family history, among many other things. Paying attention to any symptoms that seem odd and speaking to a doctor about ongoing symptoms is essential. You can make an appointment through our partner site PlushCare, and talk to a licensed physician about looking out for heart attack symptoms in women.
If you believe you have a heart attack, seek emergency care immediately.
Heart Attack Types And Diagnosis
A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction, sometimes simply referred to as an MI. A heart attack occurs when a blockage in one or more coronary arteries reduces or stops blood flow to the heart, which starves part of the heart muscle of oxygen.
The blood vessel blockage might be complete or partial:
- A complete blockage of a coronary artery means you suffered a STEMI heart attack which stands for ST-elevation myocardial infarction.
- A partial blockage translates to an NSTEMI heart attack a non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction.
Diagnostic steps differ for STEMI and NSTEMI heart attacks, although there can be some overlap.
Remember: Never try to diagnose yourself. Always dial 911 if you think you might be having a heart attack. The EMS crew in your ambulance will route you to the right hospital based on your location.
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Heart Attack Symptoms In Women Are They Different
Chest pain is still the most common sign of a heart attack for most women, although studies have shown that women are more likely than men to have symptoms other than chest pain or discomfort when experiencing a heart attack or other form of acute coronary syndrome , according to an article “Symptom Presentation of Women With Acute Coronary Syndromes Myth vs. Reality” published online Dec. 10 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers examined 35 years of research that yielded 69 studies 69 studies and found that, depending on the size of the study , between 30 percent and 37 percent of women did not have chest discomfort during a heart attack. In contrast, 17 percent to 27 percent of men did not experience chest discomfort. Overall, the majority of women and men in the reviewed studies had chest discomfort with heart attack .
Study authors also found that older people are more likely to have heart attack without chest discomfort. However, because women are on average nearly a decade older than men at the time of their initial heart attack, the researchers call for more studies to determine the degree to which gender independently influences heart attack symptoms.
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