Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
Heart attacks also known as myocardial infarction occurs when blood flow to the heart from a major artery is blocked. This is usually due to the buildup of plaque on the arterial walls. This buildup narrows the arteries, allowing less blood to pass through and back to the heart. Eventually the artery can shut completely, or a piece of plaque can break off and block blood flow.
One of the biggest dangers of a heart attack is not knowing that you’re having one. Since we have all seen the telltale signs of a heart attack depicted on television and in the movies – one usually sees a man clutching their chest – it seems perfectly obvious. However, not all of the symptoms of a heart attack are obvious, symptoms vary between patients and women of a certain age are at risk of having heart attacks as well. In fact, as with men, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the US.
Following are the most common symptoms:
- Chest pain, pressure or squeezing. This will occur in the center of the chest and can often be mistaken for heartburn. Typically, this pain will last longer than a few minutes, and may be intermittent. It is important to note that a heart attack may not be as obvious as it is often depicted on TV. The signs may be subtle, but no less dangerous.
- Discomfort in areas other than the center of the chest. Not all heart attacks manifest as pain in the center of the chest. Pain in one or both arms, neck and jaw pain, stomach discomfort and even back pain, pressure and squeezing can indicate symptoms of a heart attack. Many times, these will be the primary symptoms in women versus the “traditional” chest pain.
- Extreme shortness of breath, nausea, profuse sweating without a fever and dizziness can be signs to look out for. Many women, and men for that matter, may mistake this for a bad cold or flu and may never seek medical treatment or dial 911.
Some patients will have warning signs in the hours or even days before experiencing heart attack. This is usually in the form of angina or chest pain that can be persistent or intermittent. It is, therefore, very important for patients to see their cardiologist at the first sign of chest discomfort; or dial 911 immediately if they have the symptoms of a heart attack.
A Special Note for Women
You may have been told that your risk for heart disease or a heart attack is low because you are a woman. However, this is not necessarily true. It is important that everyone – men and women – get screened for heart disease at an appropriate age as recommended by their primary care physician or cardiologist. If you have family history of heart disease or if you have certain cardiovascular risks, you may need to be screened earlier.
Contact the Huntington Heart Center to schedule a consultation with one of our cardiologists to evaluate your risk.