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.
British Heart Foundation: What Is A Heart Attack
It’s common for women to delay seeking help when having a heart attack.
A heart attack means that blood flow to the heart is disrupted. The longer this goes on, the higher the risk of:
- permanent damage to the heart muscle
- life-threatening heart rhythms
You may think the symptoms are not important, or that they’re caused by something else. However, heart attacks do not just happen to men, so if you experience any symptoms it’s important to seek help immediately.
Read further information about:
- Managing any conditions you might have – like high blood pressure or diabetes – which can lead to heart disease
Symptoms Of Heart Disease Women
As heart disease worsens, other symptoms could emerge. Depending on the precise type of heart disease you have, your symptoms may vary.
Women experience distinct heart disease symptoms than men, who are more prone to experience chest pain. Women may experience the following later heart disease symptoms:
- Swelling in legs, feet, or ankles
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How Does Heart Disease Affect Women
Despite increases in awareness over the past decades, only about half of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer.1
Learn more facts about women and heart disease:
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 314,186 women in 2020or about 1 in every 5 female deaths.2
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among American Indian and Alaska Native women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.3
- About 1 in 16 women age 20 and older have coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease:4
- About 1 in 16 white women , black women , and Hispanic women
- About 1 in 30 Asian women
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.
Read Also: What Is A Silent Heart Attack
Womens Signs Of Heart Attack
The most common heart attack sign is chest pain or discomfort however, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure. 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.
Angina And Heart Attacks
Angina is a syndrome caused by the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart becoming restricted.
People with angina can experience similar symptoms to a heart attack, but they usually happen during exercise and pass within a few minutes.
However, occasionally, people with angina can have a heart attack. It’s important to recognise the difference between the symptoms of angina and those of a heart attack. The best way to do this is to remember that the symptoms of angina can be controlled with medicine, but symptoms of a heart attack cannot.
If you have angina, you may have been prescribed medicine that improves your symptoms within 5 minutes. If the first dose does not work, a second dose can be taken after 5 minutes, and a third dose after a further 5 minutes.
If the pain persists, despite taking 3 doses of glyceryl trinitrate over 15 minutes, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
Page last reviewed: 28 November 2019 Next review due: 28 November 2022
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What Is A Silent Heart Attack
A silent heart attack is a heart attack that does not cause obvious symptoms. Your doctor may discover a silent heart attack days, weeks, or months later on an electrocardiogram test used to diagnose a heart problem.
Silent heart attack:
- Is more common in women than in men
- Can happen to women younger than 65. Younger women who have silent heart attacks without chest pain are more likely to die compared to younger men who have silent heart attacks without chest pain.2
- Is more likely to happen in women with diabetes. Diabetes can change how you sense pain, making you less likely to notice heart attack symptoms.3
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. Describe your symptoms and let the 911 operator know you may be having a heart attack.
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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Risk Factors For Heart Attack In Women
In addition to knowing key heart attack symptoms, its also important to know if you have risk factors for heart disease. Many women arent aware that theyre at risk for heart attack, explains Dr. Lee. So when they start having symptoms, they dont even consider that its a warning sign.
Common risk factors for women include:
- Certain medical conditions. Women are at higher risk for heart disease if they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or an inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
- Pregnancy complications. Women who had pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, or preeclampsia are at higher risk for a heart attack later in life.
- Smoking. Research shows that smoking can increase the risk of heart attack for young people.3 And female smokers are 25% more likely to have heart disease than male smokers.3
- Lifestyle choices. Poor diet, overuse of alcohol, and physical inactivity all increase a womans risk for heart attack.
- Menopause. Lower levels of estrogen after menopause can increase the risk of heart attack for women.
Do Women Have As Many Heart Attacks As Men
Coronary heart disease kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer in the UK every year, and it was the single biggest killer of women worldwide in 2019. Despite this, its often considered a mans disease.There are more than 800,000 women in the UK living with CHD, which is the main cause of heart attacks.
Each year more than 30,000 women are admitted to hospital in the UK due to a heart attack.
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Heart Attack Symptoms Differ In Women
Overall men have significantly more heart attacks, but under the age of 55 women are more likely to die from one. Without displaying the classic
Overall men have significantly more heart attacks, but under the age of 55 women are more likely to die from one. Without displaying the classic chest pain symptoms of a heart attack, researchers say some women may not be getting the right kind of treatment.
The study looked at patients seen at more than 1,000 hospitals.
The research found that among younger women those aged under 55 the differences in symptoms with men of the same age were striking.
Overall, 42% of women did not experience chest pain compared with 30% of men.
And once admitted, the study found that women were more likely to die than men from the same age group.
Some 14% of women died compared with 10% of men.
The study adds to evidence that women can experience quite different symptoms to men.
Time is critical
The authors, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said: Optimal recognition and timely management of myocardial infarction , especially for reducing patient delay in seeking acute medical care, is critical.
The presence of chest pain/discomfort is the hallmark symptom of MI.
Patients without chest pain/discomfort tend to present later, are treated less aggressively, and have almost twice the short-term mortality compared with those presenting with more typical symptoms of MI.
What Women Need To Know About Subtle Heart Attack Symptoms
Heart disease is the cause of about one in every three deaths in the United States. Its the leading cause of death for men and women, yet its a common misconception that men are at greater risk for heart problems than women.
Many people assume that only older individuals, particular older men, are at risk for heart attack. But if your heart health is compromised, a heart attack can happen at any age and to either sex.
The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain for both women and men. But women are more likely to suffer a heart attack with more subtle symptoms, which makes recognizing a heart attack more difficult unless you know what to look for.
At NJ Cardiovascular Institute, our team is here to help you understand the most common signs of heart attacks in women. We regularly diagnose and treat heart disease to help women of all ages live longer, healthier lives.
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 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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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.
American Heart Association News Stories
American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Statements, conclusions, accuracy and reliability of studies published in American Heart Association scientific journals or presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the American Heart Associations official guidance, policies or positions.
Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, for individuals, media outlets, and non-commercial education and awareness efforts to link to, quote, excerpt or reprint from these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to American Heart Association News.
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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.
Pregnancy And Heart Attacks
Heart attacks are not common among pregnant women, but they are possible both during and soon after delivery. Normal changes to your body during pregnancy can raise your risk of a heart attack. Your age, lifestyle habits, and other health conditions, such as bleeding disorders, obesity, preeclampsia , and diabetes, can also raise your risk.
If you already have coronary artery disease, being pregnant can raise your risk of a heart attack. Coronary artery disease is a major cause of heart attacks during pregnancy. Ask your doctor whether it is safe for you to get pregnant and what steps you need to take to keep your heart healthy during your pregnancy.
Heart attacks caused by spontaneous coronary artery dissection , a coronary artery embolus, or a coronary artery spasm are more common in pregnant women than in people who are not pregnant.
If you have symptoms of a heart attack during your pregnancy, or at any time, . Your healthcare team will take steps to protect your baby during these tests. Your healthcare team will also make sure that any treatment you take for a heart attack is safe to use during pregnancy.
Watch one womans story about surviving a heart attack soon after delivery.
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How Do I Know If I Am At Risk For A Heart Attack
A heart attack can happen to anyone, woman or man, young or old. Some people are more at risk because of certain health problems, family health history, age, and habits. These are called risk factors.
You cant change some risk factors, like your age, race or ethnicity, or family history. The good news is that you can change or control many risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and unhealthy eating.
Learn more about controllable and uncontrollable risk factors for heart disease.
Why Is Heart Attack More Common In Females
Historically, research on heart disease in males has shaped most of our theories on the condition in women. However, there are numerous arguments in favour of the notion that women experience it differently. Women frequently experience distinct heart-attack symptoms than men, and they are considerably more likely than men to pass away a year after having a heart attack. Additionally, it appears that women don’t respond as well to clot-busting medications or specific heart-related medical procedures as males do.
Heart disease can begin in infancy, progress subtly through time, and suddenly manifest as a sudden, often fatal heart attack. Therefore, we shouldn’t put off taking adequate measures to lower our risk until women start exhibiting the symptoms of a heart attack or until more information from research is available.
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What Women Need To Know Thats Different From Men
For a long time there was a sense that women didnt have the chest pain that men do, and thats not true, says Lichtman. The number one thing women need to know is that chest pain or pressure is in fact one of the symptoms , even if it doesnt feel like the stereotype of a crushing weight on your chest. My rule is, if you have any symptoms between your navel and your nose, that comes on with exertion and goes away with rest, you have to think about your heart, says Dr. Watson.
For a long time there was a sense that women didnt have chest pain as men do, and thats not true
The other thing women need to know thats different from men is that they may have multiple symptoms, and not to disregard the fact that chest pain is one of them. Why? I think its a combination of things, Lichtman says. In the back of peoples minds, especially with younger women, people would rather have something else be the cause than a heart attack, she says. Theyd much rather it be, say, indigestion over a heart attack, so they tend to focus on the less dire possibilities.
Doctors, too, may not think heart attack if when they hear chest pain as just one of many symptoms. Its different for different providers, but for some, the order in which you hear is the order of intensity, she says. So if a woman lists chest pressure as third or fourth on the list, it may take the doctor longer to think of a heart attack.