Risk Factors For Heart Attacks In Women
The following factors may contribute to an increased risk of a heart attack:
- Age: Women over 55 years old have approximately the same risk of a heart attack as men their age.
- Hormone replacement therapy : Patients on HRT, especially at high doses, were found to be at an increased risk of a heart attack and stroke. Avoidance of HRT is recommended in women who have no or minimal postmenopausal symptoms.
- Tobacco abuse: Smoking, tobacco use, and vaping are known to affect cardiovascular health in both genders.
- Medical conditions: These include diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
- Obesity: Obesity, often caused by a sedentary lifestyle, is associated with high cholesterol and fat levels, increasing the risk of a heart attack.
- Genetics and family history: A genetic predisposition to premature heart disease .
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.
The Four Silent Symptoms Of A Heart Attack
In addition to extreme fatigue, here are the most common symptoms of heart attacks in women, according to the American Heart Association, so you know what to look for. Note that you may not have all of them:
All of these signs are “silent,” in the sense that they are easy to ignore especially if you dont want to believe youre having a heart attack. Another reason people think of them as silent signs of a heart attack is that individually, these symptoms could all be attributed to other conditions. The chest pain, in particular, may not be the dramatic, elephant-on-my-chest stereotypical male heart attack pain, says Lichtman.
And the sheer number of these ambiguous symptoms may be one of the reasons many women dont know theyre having a heart attack, according to Lichtmans research there are other things bothering them, so they blow off the chest pain or pressure symptom, says Lichtman.
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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.
Pay Attention To Heart Attack Symptoms
Experts urge women to learn the various heart attack symptoms and to call 911 promptly at the appearance of these signs.
Though most women feel indigestion once in a while, experiencing a cluster of unusual symptoms or a persistent sensation in the chest, back, or stomach never felt before is reason to seek emergency care. Park has seen too many patients wait too long. Because women have lots of competing demands — jobs, families, and sometimes caregiving duties — âtaking care of themselves, even if they donât feel well, usually doesnât make it to the top of the list,â she says.
That can be dangerous, experts say.
âThe longer a woman waits before getting treatment to open the blocked blood vessel to the heart, the more damage is done to the heart muscle. If a large amount of the heart muscle is damaged, the woman will be at risk for heart failure,â says Teresa Caulin-Glaser, MD, co-author of The Womanâs Heart: An Ownerâs Guide and director of preventive cardiology and research at McConnell Heart Health Center in Columbus, Ohio.
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Arm Back Neck Or Jaw Pain
Sometimes chest pain can radiate or travel through your arm, neck, jaw, or your back, says Dr. Lee. The pain may gradually get more intense over several minutes.
Since most people expect pain to be in their chest during a heart attack, these symptoms can be very confusing. This is especially true because it may be difficult to pinpoint where the pain started.
Female Heart Attack Symptoms
âTypicalâ heart attack symptoms include chest pressure or squeezing or stabbing sensations in the center or left side of the chest, says Myung H. Park, MD, FACC, who is director of the Pulmonary Vascular Diseases Program at the University of Maryland Medical Center. âItâs very typical for people to make a fist when theyâre describing their symptoms,â she says. âSome people describe it as feeling like a vise encasing their whole chest area.â
But in women, symptoms can be less typical. Although women can experience chest pain or discomfort, many donât. In a 2003 Circulation study of female heart attack patients, scientists found that during an attack, 43% of the 515 women studied had no âacute chest pain, a âhallmark symptom in men.ââ
The study noted some common female heart attack symptoms:
â¢ shortness of breath
â¢ unusual fatigue
Women had other atypical heart attack symptoms, too: nausea, dizziness, lower chest discomfort, upper abdominal pressure or discomfort that feels like indigestion, and upper back pain.
Often, women are unaware that these symptoms can be a sign of a heart problem, and blame them on heartburn or indigestion, arthritis, or stress, experts say. If women become short of breath with little exertion, they tell themselves they are out of shape, overworked, or fatigued.
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Dont Hesitate To Call 911
Learn the signs for heart attack, and remember: Even if youre not sure its a heart attack, have it checked out.
Minutes matter. Fast action can save lives – maybe your own.
if you experience heart attack warning signs. Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment.
An emergency medical services team can begin treatment when they arrive up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too.
For many reasons, its best to call 911 so that an experienced EMS team can begin treatment and arrange rapid transport to the emergency room.
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.
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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.
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.
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Heart Attack Symptoms Women May Experience
According to The Mayo Clinic, heart attacks in women may be accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Chest pain, pressure or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes.
- A feeling of extreme pressure or tightness
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or upper belly discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual fatigue
The Mayo Clinic adds that the symptoms listed above may be vague and not as noticeable as the crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks and that in comparison with men, women tend to have symptoms more often when resting, or even when asleep.
It goes on to say that emotional stress can play a role in triggering heart attack symptoms in women.
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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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.”
What Is A Heart Attack
Most people associate heart attacks with chest pain. Some people, especially women, may have a heart attack without chest pain. It’s important to know the other signs of a heart attack.
A heart attack happens when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching your heart. The arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart can become narrowed. This narrowing is due to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque on and in your artery walls. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances.
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Symptoms Can Last For Days
Since many symptoms of a heart attack in women dont include chest pain, theyre often overlooked. Unusual fatigue, nausea, weakness, and other signs may be mistaken for illnesses such as the flu.
Vague symptoms make heart attack harder to identify, but women are also more likely to dismiss or minimize their symptoms in comparison to men. In fact, one study found that women waited 54 hours to seek treatment for heart attack symptoms, compared to men who waited just 16 hours.
If you think you or a loved one is suffering a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Follow the operators instructions and try to take slow, deep breaths until help arrives. Seeking treatment as early as possible increases your chances of a full recovery.
Why Heart Disease Goes Undiagnosed In Women
Australian women are more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer. This is partly because heart disease is often not recognised in women. The reasons for this include:
- Women often develop symptoms of heart disease at a much later stage in the illness than men.
- Symptoms can be more vague or non-specific in women.
- Women are less likely to seek help quickly.
- Some diagnostic tests for heart disease are less accurate in women than in men.
- Some health professionals may be less likely to check for heart disease in women.
There is also less community awareness of the risk of heart disease in females. Many Australian women mistakenly assume that heart disease mostly affects middle-aged men, which is not the case.
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How Is Heart Disease Treated In Women
Similar action is taken to treat heart disease in both men and women. Depending on the diagnosis, treatments can include medications, angioplasty, stenting, coronary bypass surgery or cardiac rehabilitation. Your doctor may also recommend a change in lifestyle to delay the onset of heart disease.
The most recent research shows that women are often being under-treated when it comes to heart disease, with women who suffer a heart attack half as likely to receive proper treatments and twice as likely to die as men.
This highlights the need for women to be aware of their risk factors, as well as symptoms of heart disease, and learn what can be done to treat heart disease.
What Should I Do If I Have Heart Attack Symptoms
If you think you, or someone else, may be having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Do not drive yourself to the hospital, and do not let a friend drive you. You may need medical help on the way to the hospital. Ambulance workers are trained to treat you on the way to the emergency room.
Getting to the hospital quickly is important. Treatments for opening clogged arteries work best within the first hour after a heart attack starts.
If you think you’re having a heart attack, get emergency help right away. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are overreacting or to wait and see. Get tips on how best to describe your symptoms and how to ask for tests that can show whether you’re having a heart attack.
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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.