While symptoms of a heart attack are commonly known, a woman's symptoms can differ from a man's.
If you ask my wonderful wife, she will tell you it is because women have a more heart – and because, um, women are just better than men! I have to agree!
All kidding aside, heart attacks are severe and know the symptoms are essential and can be the difference between being a survivor or a statistic.
Here is some important information:
1. Women have risk factors men don’t have.
Certain diseases that only affect women, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary disease, diabetes and high blood pressure that develop during pregnancy, increase the risk of coronary artery disease, the leading cause of heart attack. Endometriosis has been found to raise the risk of developing coronary artery disease by 400% in women under age 40.
Women also share traditional risk factors with men: high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol levels, smoking and obesity. Like men, women can be impacted by a family history of heart disease, particularly when a father or brother was diagnosed with coronary artery disease before age 55, or a mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65.
2. Women are generally older when they have their first heart attack.
Estrogen offers women some protection from heart disease until after menopause, when estrogen levels drop. This is why the average age of for a heart attack is 70 in women, but 66 in men.
3. The symptoms of heart attack can be different in women.
Men often describe their chest pain during a heart attack as a crushing weight on the chest. Some women also experience chest pain, but they are more likely to have different, subtler symptoms for three or four weeks before a heart attack. Red flags include:
- New or dramatic fatigue. For example, a simple activity like making the bed makes you feel unusually tired. You aren’t exerting yourself, but you feel deeply fatigued or have a “heavy” chest. You may feel very tired, but can’t sleep well. Or you are suddenly worn out after your normal exercise routine.
- Shortness of breath or sweating. Watch for this especially when either symptom occurs without exertion and when either symptom is accompanied by a symptom such a chest pain or fatigue. Look for either symptom worsening over time after exertion. Other signs are shortness of breath that worsens when lying down and is relieved when you sit up and a cold, clammy feeling that occurs without cause.
- Pain in the neck, back or jaw. This is especially of note when there is no specific muscle or joint that aches or when the discomfort worsens when you are exerting yourself and stops when you stop. While men usually experience pain in the left arm, women can experience this pain can be in either arm. Also, watch for pain that starts in the chest and spreads to the back, pain that occurs suddenly and may wake you up at night and pain in the lower left side of the jaw.
4. Coronary Artery Disease in women is sometimes hard to diagnose.
An X-ray movie (angiogram) taken during a cardiac catheterization is the gold standard test for finding narrowings or blockages in the heart’s large arteries.
But coronary artery disease in women often affects the small arteries, which cannot be clearly seen on an angiogram. That’s why any woman who is given the “all clear” signal after an angiogram and continues to have symptoms should see a cardiologist who specializes in women with heart disease.
5. A heart attack is harder on a woman than a man.
Women don’t tend to do as well as men after a heart attack. They often require a longer hospital stay, and they are more likely to die before leaving the hospital.
This may be due to the fact that women who suffer a heart attack have more untreated risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Sometimes, it’s because they put their families first and don’t take care of themselves.
6. Women don’t always get the proper medications after a heart attack.
After a heart attack, women are at greater risk of developing a blood clot that can cause another heart attack. For unknown reasons, they are not as likely to be given a drug to prevent such blood clots. This could explain why women are more likely than men to have a second heart attack within 12 months.
Whether you are a man or a woman, it’s never too late to lower your chance of suffering a heart attack. Here is what you need to do:
- Quit smoking or don’t start.
- Get regular exercise: at minimum, walk 30 minutes a day.
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish and low in animal products, simple carbohydrates and processed foods.
- Maintain a normal weight, blood pressure, blood lipid and blood sugar levels.
It’s important for all of us to be proactive in reducing our heart attack risk.
Tomorrow is Wear Red Canada, so dig out those Red shirts, pants, socks; you got the picture and support raising awareness about women's heart health.
You can get more information about both the “Wear Red Canada” events, including the sails at Canada Place, BC Place and other prominent locations that will shine red to show their support. You can get more information on the Wear Red Canada by Clicking Here for the Wear Red Canada campaign. You can also get more information on heart health.