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Why Are Women’s Heart Attack Symptoms Different

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Symptoms Of Heart Attack In Women:

Ask the expert: Why are women’s heart attack symptoms different then men’s?
  • Unusual pain in your neck, chest, shoulder, jaw, abdomen and/or through to your back
  • Feeling short of breath, sweaty
  • Racing of your heart or feeling of fluttering
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, then you should get immediate medical attention.

Feelings of embarrassment and not wanting to be a burden on others are major reasons why women tend to delay seeking treatment. It is important to identify any problems and take the necessary steps to intervene before a possible heart attack.

Learn The Symptoms Of Heart Disease In Women

For many women, getting serious about their heart health may seem like a lot to ask for, especially if they think heart disease is something that mainly affects men. But the reality is that heart disease which refers to several types of heart conditions does not discriminate. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Heart disease is responsible for one in five female deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Women are just as vulnerable as men to developing heart disease. Outreach is critical since the symptoms, screenings and preventive care for men and women can significantly differ, says Kiyon Chung, MD, a cardiologist at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.

Symptoms of heart disease in women

Women, like men, can experience chest pain and discomfort, which are the most common symptoms of a heart attack. But women are more likely to experience other common symptoms, such as shortness of breath, persistent indigestion, unusual fatigue, nausea and excessive sweating with minimal physical exertion. Some of these symptoms may be present for weeks to months before a heart attack.

Because womens symptoms can be so easily mistaken for common complaints, such as an upset stomach or lack of sleep, it is especially important for women to know their risk factors and have frequent, thorough screening exams for heart disease.

Heart disease awareness

Certain types of heart disease affect women more than men

Women Have Poorer Outcomes Than Men After A Heart Attack

Heart disease is the leading underlying cause of death for Australian men, and the second most common cause of death for women. But the potential difference in heart attack symptoms can have deadly consequences for women.

Women have poorer outcomes than men following a heart attack, says Natalie Raffoul, who is the risk reduction manager at Australia’s Heart Foudndation.

Men are twice as likely to have heart attacks compared with women, but women are three times more likely to have a fatal heart attack. In 2019 almost half of all heart attack deaths were in women.

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Explore More Information And Support For Women

Indigenous women and heart disease

Trauma through the generations and high-stress environments created by the impacts of historical policies have contributed to higher levels of heart disease in Indigenous women.

  • Indigenous communities in Canada often face challenges to good health including lack of access to health care, affordable food and safe drinking water, and other factors.
  • Indigenous people in Canada are two times more likely to develop heart disease than non-Indigenous Canadians.
  • Coronary heart disease is responsible for a 53% higher death rate in Indigenous women compared to non-Indigenous women.
  • Indigenous women die from heart disease at a younger age compared to non-Indigenous women.
Related information

Both Men And Women Can Prevent Heart Attacks

Heart attacks in women female

Whether youre a man or a woman, there are steps you can take to reduce risk and help prevent a heart attack. Do everything in your power to quit smoking. Get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. Eat a nutritious, heart-healthy diet, like the Mediterranean or DASH diets. See your doctor on the regular to track HBP, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels. Maintain a healthy weight. While men and women can present with different symptoms of heart attacks, they should take the same steps to prevent heart attacks in the first place, says Dr. Goyfman.

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Women May Not Have Typical Symptoms Or They May Be Too Busy To Notice

When you think of a heart attack, symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath probably come to mind. But thats not always the case for women. In fact, many women exhibit such atypical symptoms that they dont even realize theyre having a heart attack. We spoke with Atiq Rehman, MD, of Cardiothoracic Surgical Services at LMA and Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to get some insight.

People are expecting the classical chest pain. If that doesnt happen, than its not a heart attack. But in real life thats not so, says Dr. Rehman. If the symptoms are atypical, or unusual, then they dont seek medical care as fast as they should and the implications are more severe, he says.

A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart gets blocked, most often as the result of either undiagnosed or untreated heart disease. The sooner you seek treatment, the better your chance of surviving.

Heart attack symptoms in men vs. women When men have a heart attack, they tend to experience classic symptoms, including:

  • Chest pain and pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort in the arms, shoulders or neck

As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain. But not all women have chest pain. Women are more likely than men to have other, less obvious symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Heartburn or indigestion


Women Can Develop More Diffuse Disease

In the months leading up to her heart attack, Walker had a battery of tests doneand none found a blockage in her arteries for her doctors to treat. Turns out, in her case that was the problem.

Women are more likely than men to have the type of heart attack where theres no obstruction, explains Janet Wei, M.D., a cardiologist in the Barbra Streisand Womens Heart Center at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. In classic heart diseaseclassic being defined as how symptoms generally present in male bodies, which have been significantly overrepresented in clinical studiesplaque builds up in an artery, causing it to narrow in one spot. The plaque can eventually block off that part of the artery, arresting blood flow to the heart and causing a heart attack.

However, for women the picture is often different.

Women get more diffuse disease, so the artery doesnt look narrowed in one place. The whole thing is narrowed, says Gina Lundberg, M.D., clinical director of Emory Womens Heart Center in Atlanta. This could explain, she says, why doctors dont find blockages in some women who complain of chest discomfort, and why women can have heart attacks without blockages. It’s also harder to treat because you cant put 10 stints down the whole artery,” she adds.

Whats more, women can have conditions that make their blood more likely to clot, says Dr. Wei, and those little clotsor embolismscan cause a heart attack.

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Silent Heart Attack Symptoms

A silent heart attack is like any other heart attack, except it occurs without the usual symptoms. In other words, you may not even realize youve experienced a heart attack.

In fact, researchers from Duke University Medical Center have estimated that as many as 200,000 Americans experience heart attacks each year without even knowing it. Unfortunately, these events cause heart damage and increase the risk of future attacks.

Silent heart attacks are more common among people with diabetes and in those whove had previous heart attacks.

Symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack include:

  • mild discomfort in your chest, arms, or jaw that goes away after resting
  • shortness of breath and tiring easily
  • sleep disturbances and increased fatigue
  • abdominal pain or heartburn
  • skin clamminess

After having a silent heart attack, you may experience more fatigue than before or find that exercise becomes more difficult. Get regular physical exams to stay on top of your heart health. If you have cardiac risk factors, talk to your doctor about getting tests done to check the condition of your heart.

Gender Diversity And Common Emergency Symptoms

Heart attack symptoms can be different for women

People who identify as trans, non-binary or gender diverse may wonder which symptoms they should be on the lookout for in an emergency. You should always talk to your doctor about your specific situation and medical history to get their advice and an assessment of your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. As a general rule, if the symptom is unusual, severe, or long-lasting you should seek medical attention early. If you think you could be having a heart attack or stroke, call triple zero for an ambulance immediately, even if you dont think you have stereotypical symptoms.

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Preventing Heart Disease In Women And Men

Women often focus on looking after partners, children or ageing parents, but it’s important for women also to prioritise their own health.

In Australia, 9 in every 10 women have one risk factor for heart disease, and half of all women have 2 or 3 risk factors. The risk factors for heart disease in both in women and men include high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Women can also have the added risk factors of pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes , which may increase the chances of developing heart disease later in life.

Whether you’re a woman or a man, you will reduce your risk of developing heart disease if you:

  • know the risk factors for heart disease
  • talk to your doctor about ‘cardiovascular screening’ based on your family history and risk factors

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 is the single biggest killer of women worldwide. 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. 35,000 women are admitted to hospital following a heart attack each year in the UK – an average of 98 women per day, or 4 per hour.

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Thursday 29 October 2020

Did you know that common emergency symptoms can differ for men and women? Often chest pain is thought to be the most common symptom for a heart attack and it is common in men. However, only about half of all women who have a heart attack actually report having chest pain.

Early treatment is critical for both heart attacks and strokes, two of Australias biggest killers. Knowing the common emergency symptoms and seeking immediate medical attention could save your life or save your loved one.

A Womans Heart Attack: Why And How It Is Different Than A Mans Heart Attack

Heart attack warning signs different for men and women

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, killing one out of every four women each year. Why is heart disease so deadly in women? One of the reasons is that typical heart attack symptomscrushing chest pain that radiates to the left armdo not describe what many women feel during their heart attacks. Consequently, women ignore or downplay their heart attack symptoms until it is too late.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when the blood supply is cut off from or severely reduced to part of the heart. It is caused by a blockage in one of the coronary arteries. This blockage could be caused by a blood clot or by plaque, cholesterol, and fat buildup in the arteries . Heart cells starved of blood die rather quickly if blood flow is not restored. If too much heart tissue dies, heart function can be permanently altered or the person could die from the heart attack.

Typical cardiac chest pain

Most descriptions of heart attack symptoms were gleaned from asking men about their heart attack symptoms. As such, these symptoms apply most often to men, though they can also apply to women.

The typical symptoms of heart attack are:

  • Discomfort just behind the breastbone
  • Brought on by exertion or emotional stress
  • The pain may radiate or extend to the shoulder, jaw or inner aspect of the arm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue

How is a womans heart attack different?

Symptoms of heart attack for commonly experienced by women:

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Female Heart Attacks Symptoms Are Subtler

Women need to be aware of the more vague symptoms they often get that indicate a heart attack. Other common symptoms you might experience include pain or discomfort in areas surrounding the chest, such as the neck and jaw, arm, shoulder, upper back, or stomach.

You might also experience vomiting and nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, indigestion, and unexplained fatigue. Your symptoms might feel more similar to what youd expect from the flu or acid reflux than a heart attack.

Prevention Is The Best Medicine

The vast majority of heart disease is a result of the typical risk factors, but gender differences do exist. Knowing that women have additional, unique risk factors can help them better understand their own risk levels, spot warning signs earlier, and even prompt a talk with a cardiologist to help prevent the worst from happening.

Do your genetics homework, Walker advises other women. She didnt learn until after her heart attack that her father was diagnosed with heart disease in his 30s, had a heart attack in his 50s, and had a pacemaker implanted. Walker now has a pacemaker, too.

If you feel you are having the symptoms of heart trouble, speak up until you are heard. Advocate for yourself, Reeves says. Its OK to go for a second opinion, a third opinion. Its OK to say, This is not anxiety. What else can you check?

Womens heart centers are now available across the country. You dont necessarily need a gender-specific clinic to get care. But, if you have ongoing symptoms that your local cardiologist cant explain, a womens center might be worth a look.

The bottom line, Dr. Lundberg says, is that heart disease is preventable, and you can get care. Lets empower women to get that care.

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Women Are Less Likely To Experience Chest Pain

Chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom in women and men. Nevertheless, women are less likely than men to have severe chest pain when they have a heart attack.

More commonly than men, women have heart attacks caused by small, rather than large, heart arteries. These types of blockages tend to cause symptoms that are less obvious than chest pain.

Heart Risk Factor: Low Testosterone

How heart attack symptoms differ in men and women

Having low testosterone levels is often thought of as a decrease in sexual drive, but it is increasingly seen as linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the expert said. He notes that growing research shows that low T can be considered a risk of cardiovascular disease.

These theories are still being studied, but we do know, for example, that people who are overweight or obese or have metabolic syndrome are more likely to have low testosterone. Metabolic syndrome and diabetes leading to an increased risk of heart disease.

Low testosterone is just one part of the overall picture of heart risk, says an expert. But it can be encouraging, and life-saving, to know that the changes in your sexual function are closely related to your entire body. It is worthwhile to examine yourself if something does not seem right. Men often do not connect the problem or get tested for the risk of stroke or heart attack until it happens. But sexual problems are the message they listen to

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Common Risk Factors Are More Dangerous For Women

Both men and women can get diabetes, have HBP, or struggle with depression. Yet if youre a woman with any of these conditions, you may be at greater risk for a heart attack than a man who has the same, according to the American Heart Association. In fact, clinical depressiontwice as common in women as it is in mendoubles a womans heart attack risk. Its thought that womens range of symptoms may go untreated, either because they put their families first and dont see a doctor, or their symptoms are wrongly diagnosed or even dismissed when they do.

So Why Would Angina Symptoms Be Different In Women And Men

Heart disease in men is more often due to blockages in their coronary arteries, referred to as obstructive coronary artery disease . Women more frequently develop heart disease within the very small arteries that branch out from the coronary arteries. This is referred to as microvascular disease and occurs particularly in younger women. Up to 50 percent of women with anginal symptoms who undergo cardiac catheterization dont have the obstructive type of CAD.

When women are sick, they tend to ignore it, said Jennifer Mieres, M.D., a cardiologist and professor of cardiology and population health at the Northshore LIJ Health System in New York. We need to put the fact that were vulnerable to heart disease on our radar screen and recognize the signs.

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, affecting one out of every three in the United States. Nearly half of African-American women have cardiovascular disease.

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