What Causes A Sudden Heart Attack
A heart attack is caused by a blockage in or spasm of your coronary artery, which is the artery that supplies blood to your heart.
- Blockage: The artery may be partially or completely blocked by blood clots and fat that get deposited on the walls of the artery. The blockage reduces blood supply to your heart and causes an oxygen shortage.
- Spasm: A spasm of your coronary artery stops blood flow to part of the heart muscle. The spasm is often caused by using tobacco and recreational drugs such as cocaine.
COVID-19 can also damage your heart and result in a heart attack.
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.
Why Are Lifestyle Changes Important
Making changes in your lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do to prevent another heart attack, heart disease and stroke. The ABCs of prevention are:
- Avoid Tobacco As a nonsmoker, you can go so many places and enjoy so many experiences that were off limits to you as a smoker.
- Become More Active Regular physical activity will ease stress and depression, help control weight and help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Choose Good Nutrition Good nutrition will help control your weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Even if youre taking prescription medication, its still extremely important to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle. Learn more about the lifestyle changes for heart attack prevention.
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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.
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.
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When Should I See A Doctor
Its important not to ignore symptoms and wait until they become severe. If you have a concern, talk to your doctor. If heart disease is caught early, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of further problems: eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, get regular exercise , maintain a healthy weight, drink alcohol in moderation , and dont smoke.
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Its A Good Thing She Did Not Ignore Her Symptoms
In the ambulance, attendants quizzed Cynthia on whether or not she might be experiencing an anxiety attack instead of a heart attack.
She took a moment to think about it and then pointed out that she had been completely calm when the shortness of breath began and only became upset when she realized that something medically significant was happening to her.
Had I not been a physician, I may have not have been able articulate this quite so well, says Cynthia. It felt a little bit like I had to stick up for myself that I knew something different was happening to me and it shouldnt be dismissed.
When Cynthia arrived at the hospital, the emergency room physician ordered two tests: an electrocardiogram , a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart, and a troponin blood test. Troponin is a protein thats released from cardiac muscle when its damaged when healthy, troponin levels should be undetectable.
The emergency room physician came into her room to tell her that all of her initial lab work looked normal.
I felt like myself again. I was ready to leave, says Cynthia.
But the emergency room physician had other plans.
He told me that if Id been there for four hours, he might be ready to let me go, but since it just happened, he wasnt ready to let me leave yet. He wanted to do a follow-up troponin test in an hour, says Cynthia.
And therein lies the challenge of heart attack symptoms in women.
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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.”
Other Causes Of Left Arm Pain
Probably the easiest way to recognize if your left arm pain is caused by a heart attack is to answer the following questions:
- Does the pain last less than one minute?
- Does it feel like someone is stabbing you in the arm?
- Does movement or touching the arm cause you to feel pain?
- Is it just a portion of your arm thats hurting?
If you these answers are positive, the pain youre feeling might be due to an injury:
- Bursitis might be the cause of the pain, a condition in which the bursa is inflamed. Shoulder bursitis may occur when the joint is being overused.
- Rotator cuff tear is a condition that causes a soft tissue located in the shoulders to hurt from trauma. A rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles located in the shoulder, which helps people move their arms.
- Tendonitis occurs when the tissue between the bone and the muscle is inflamed.
- Fractures are broken bones, which can also lead to left arm pain.
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Little To No Chest Pain
Chest pain is the most common heart attack or pre-heart attack symptom in both women and men. However, for men, the pain is often localized to their left side and the most prominent and severe symptom of a heart attack. Chest pain in a woman can be a subtler signal thats less easy to interpret.
Women might experience chest pain from a heart attack as a fullness or a vice-like squeezing throughout the chest. It also is often not the most prominent symptom, so women should be mindful of the suite of other symptoms that manifest at the same time, with the big one being
I Felt Like I Had Awful Heartburn
“I had just finished teaching three high-intensity classes, and I felt a pain in my chest, but I brushed it off as heartburn. Then, as I was walking up the stairs at my gym for a meeting, I suddenly felt extremely fatiguedso much so that I didn’t think I’d be able to make it the rest of the way.
“Seconds later, I felt hot and sweat started rolling off of me, like I had just gotten out of a sauna. I also suddenly wasn’t able to catch my breath, I felt nauseous, I had cramping in my hands, and my chest pain was getting worse and worse.
“I kept saying I was fine, but my coworker knew better, so she called 911. Paramedics did an EKG and immediately threw me in the ambulance and rushed me to the hospital.
“Within an hour, I had an angiogram to remove a clot that had blocked my left anterior descending artery 100 percent. The second it was out, I felt immediate relief. My cardiologists best guess was that stress or exercise, or a combination of the two, caused a tear in my artery, which forced the blood to clot. I found out later that the majority of people with this same blockage die.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to lead my healthy lifestyle today, but its always in the back of my mind. Now I have regular checkups for my arteries and am careful not to overdo it with intense exercise. The experience has just made me so thankful for every day I have!”
Shannon Schleicher, 39, a personal trainer and fitness coach for Life Time Athletic
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What Is A Heart Attack
A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked. If theres not enough blood flowing to your heart muscle, it can damage the affected part of your heart and cause the muscle to die. This can be life threatening.
Heart attacks are usually caused by waxy plaque thats built up inside the blood vessels that lead to your heart. This plaque is made up of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, fats, and other inflammatory products.
When a hard plaque bursts, a blood clot forms quickly. If the clot is big enough, it will disrupt blood flow to your heart.
If the flow of oxygenated blood is completely blocked, the heart tissue supplied by that artery becomes damaged and may die, placing you at higher risk of heart failure and other serious complications.
If you suspect you or someone close to you is having a heart attack, call 911 or local emergency services. Dont try to drive yourself to the hospital if you have heart attack symptoms. Immediate medical treatment that restores normal blood flow quickly can result in less damage to your heart tissue.
A heart attack usually involves pain in the center or left side of the chest that lingers for several minutes or comes and goes. The pain can feel different from one person to the next. Its often described as:
However, sometimes there are other symptoms in addition to chest pain. And, in some cases, these symptoms may be present without chest pain.
Left Arm Pain Doesnt Always Mean Youre Having A Heart Attack Heres What To Watch For
Story by: Norton Healthcare on October 24, 2019
Left arm pain and how the pain moves can be one of the key differences between mens and womens heart attacks.
In men, the left arm pain will move from the shoulder down the left arm or up to the chin. If the pain comes on suddenly and is unusually severe, or is accompanied by pressure or squeezing in the chest, seek emergency treatment immediately.
In women, the pain can be subtler. It can radiate to the right or left arm. It can involve the chin, shoulder blades and upper back. The pain can reach into the abdomen and feel like nausea, indigestion and anxiety. Women are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Like in men, chest pain or discomfort is a common heart attack symptom in women. The pressure or squeezing can last for more than a few minutes or be intermittent in women. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if you have heart attack symptoms.
Not all left arm pain, achiness or difficulty moving is a sign of a heart attack. Sometimes the cause is an injury, compressed nerves or other issues that dont involve your heart.
Be mindful of the other symptoms, and if they last for more than a couple minutes, get emergency help.
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Can Women Reduce Their Risk Of Having A Heart Attack
As a woman, your hormones might give you some protection from CHD in your pre-menopause years. Post menopause, your risk rises and continues to rise as you get older. As you get older it is increasingly important to be aware of the risk factors that can affect your risk of developing CHD. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk. Risk factors include:
- 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:
What A Heart Attack Doesnt Feel Like
Not all chest pain is a heart attack symptom. Pain isunlikely to be heart-related when it:
- Is momentary,lasting only for a few seconds.
- Feels like apricking sensation.
- Is in a small,well-localized area of your chest.
- Can bereproduced when you press on your chest or move your arm.
- Radiates belowyour abdomen and into your legs.
The best way to guard yourself from a heart attack is to eat a healthy diet, do regular aerobic activity, avoid smoking, manage diabetes if you have it, have regular checkups with your primary care provider, and know and control your cholesterol levels, says Dr. Menon.
If you notice a sudden changein your ability to perform physical activity, get to a doctor right away.
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Heart Attack Symptoms In Women Vs Men
Women are more likely than men to have silent heart attacks and heart attacks without chest pain. Heart attacks are also more likely to start when a woman is at rest or experiencing mental stress.
That means its especially important for women to watch out for symptoms like shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, nausea or vomiting, or pain in the jaw, arms or back.
Also, we now know that young women are particularly prone to a type of heart event called a spontaneous coronary artery dissection , which we talk about in more depth below.
Chest Pain Or Discomfort
Chest pain or discomfort that does not go away can be a symptom of a heart attack. Chest pain or discomfort from a heart attack involves pain in the center of the chest or toward the left side of the chest. It can last for , or it may come and go.
Chest pain or discomfort can feel like:
- intense or more mild pressure
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