Female Heart Attacks
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Female Heart Attacks
CDC's Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet
     Women Twice as Likely to Die of Most Serious Type of Heart Attack
     Delays in Emergency Room Care Raise Heart Attack Risks for Women
     Aspirin Benefit Differs for Men, Women
     Woman Describes Her Heart Attack

Female Heart Attacks

Did you know that women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have when experiencing heart attack... you know, the sudden stabbing pain in the chest, the cold sweat, grabbing the chest and dropping to the floor that we see in the movies?  Women are more likely to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

A woman may never experience chest pain, the typical sign of a "male" heart attack.  Many doctors — and women themselves — still look for chest pain and don’t realize that female heart attack symptoms can look very different than those of men.  In fact, according to a 2004 study of women’s early heart attack signs published in Circulation, women have more unrecognized heart attacks than men and are more likely to be “mistakenly diagnosed and discharged from emergency departments” with indigestion, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, pulled muscles, anxiety or hypochondria.

Women also face longer delays than men in being evaluated, treated, and admitted for heart attack care in emergency rooms than men (30 minutes vs. 20 minutes for men) and women diagnosed with having had a heart attack tend to be managed less aggressively and have a poorer prognosis than men.  Is it any wonder that heart attacks are the number one killer of women?

Symptoms of female heart attacks:

  •  Discomfort or heaviness in the center of the chest that lasts several minutes, or that goes away and returns — it can feel like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  •  Extreme fatigue.

  •  Rapid or irregular heartbeats or extreme weakness.
  •  Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  •  Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or lightheadedness.
  •  Fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn) or upper abdominal pressure.
  •  Pain or discomfort radiating to one or both arms, the neck, or stomach.
  •  Discomfort or pain in the back, especially between the shoulder blades, or jaw pain.

  •  Recurring chest discomfort.

Possible warning signs that a heart attack may be coming:

  • About six weeks before an actual heart attack, women are likely to experience shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue or stomach pain — an early warning sign of a blocked artery.

  • A family history of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or type 2 diabetes — causes extreme fatigue

  • Frequently gasping for breath for no reason or exertion — sometimes mistaken for an anxiety attack

  • On the day of an attack, these symptoms can appear during rest or even awaken a woman from sleep, and they’re much worse.

If having heart attack symptoms, dial 9-1-1 right away for an ambulance to take you to the emergency room.  Do not waste time trying to reach your doctor.  When you come into the emergency room with the [cardiac] monitor hooked up, you’re taken seriously.

Wait no more than 5 minutes. Getting immediate and appropriate care is the single most important thing you can do to lessen the damage from a heart attack.  Most women are reluctant to call 9-1-1, which could cost precious time in saving heart muscle.  Since symptoms may come and go leading up to an attack, a woman may put off calling, thinking this too will pass, or might be embarrassed if it is not a heart attack after all. Others may not appreciate the seriousness of the situation, either.

When you reach the emergency room, simply describe your symptoms. DO NOT offer your thoughts about what it might be.  Just tell them how you feel. And if it doesn't occur to the emergency room staff that you may be having a heart attack, tell them that you think you are having one and insist on an EKG to rule out a heart attack, especially if you have risk factors like a family history of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or type 2 diabetes.

To read the entire article, click on http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/her-guide-to-a-heart-attack.

Other pertinent articles include:

Read one woman's description of her heart attack.

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