Women currently make up almost half of heart attacks that occur each year. A heart attack occurs when the heart is deprived of oxygen due to impeded blood flow in one (or more) of the blood vessels that supply the heart. The heart muscle will die if it does not receive the oxygen it needs to function. The heart may stop, be permanently damaged, and death occur in some cases.
Heart attack symptoms may differ in women and men. Approximately 30 percent of women do not report chest pain when having a heart attack. Almost three fourths of women report having flu type symptoms in the two weeks to one month prior to the heart attack event. This symptom is often not reported to emergency personnel.
Symptoms universal to men and women include:
- Chest pain or pressure on chest
- Profuse sweating, clammy skin
- Pain that radiates from the chest to the shoulders, arm and neck
- Sensation of heartburn or indigestion, may or may not be accompanied by nausea and vomiting
- Sudden, unexplained dizziness or fainting
- Tightness or squeezing in the chest
Symptoms that occur more in women are:
- Indigestion or gas-like pain
- Unexplained weakness, sudden fatigue
- Pain between shoulder blades radiating to jaw, neck or arms
- Recurring chest discomfort
- Panic/Anxiety/Fear of impending doom
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations or fluttering
While some of the above symptoms are similar or the same; in women symptoms are frequently milder and sometimes overlooked. An electrocardiogram and laboratory blood work is used to diagnose a heart attack during and before a heart attack.
Early diagnosis and treatment greatly increases chance of survival and is aimed at minimizing damage to heart muscle. If you think you are having a heart attack you should call 911 immediately. Do not try to take yourself to the hospital. Chewing an uncoated aspirin has been proven to provide life saving benefits by helping to limit the damaging effects of a blood clot in the coronary arteries.
Hospital/Emergency treatment of heart attack (depending on cause and severity) may include:
- Oxygen administration
- Medications to dissolve blood clots (blood thinners), decrease the heart rate (to decrease it’s oxygen demand), increase blood flow, and pain relievers.
- Emergency surgery to clear the clogged coronary arteries. Research indicates those receiving surgery within the first ninety minutes of a heart attack (if appropriate) had the greatest survival rate.
Another tool women have to protect their heart is prevention and education. Knowing your risk factors can help you reduce your chance of heart attack.
Factors in women that increase risk of a heart attack include:
- Family History- particularly immediate family with heart attack before age 60.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Birth control pills
- Smoking, or history of smoking previously
- Stress levels
- Lack of exercise
Fortunately, assessing your risk factors with your doctor can help you develop a plan to protect your heart. Many of these risk factors can be reduced by lifestyle changes, forming heart healthy habits and medications if necessary.