For both women and men, heart attack is a leading cause of death whose heart attack symptoms present very differently between the sexes.
The differences begin with the way men and women's coronary arteries tend to become blocked. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), men develop blockages primarily in the larger, main vessels, while women develop blockages in the smaller arteries.
While they present differently, they all should be taken seriously.
Statistically, 1 in 4 women will die of a heart attack, says the CDC. To help prevent your chances of having one, pursue a healthy lifestyle. You should also know the signs and symptoms so you can get help fast if you need it.
What to Look For
The AHA describes the heart attack symptoms a woman may experience during a heart attack. Look out for the following:
- Angina, which is a feeling of tightness, pressure or fullness in the middle of your chest that typically lasts longer than a few minutes or is intermittent
- Pain in the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach
- Shortness of breath without exertion
- Nausea and vomiting
- Breaking into a cold sweat
- Pain in the upper abdomen or lower chest
- Extreme fatigue
If you have one or more of these symptoms, it's important to call 911 rather than drive yourself to the hospital, which could delay important treatment needed to save your life. When you call, tell the emergency dispatcher that you are having a heart attack, then follow their instructions. This can drastically improve your chances of survival.
Silent Heart Attack
In a phenomenon called a silent heart attack, the vessels of the heart are obstructed, but you feel no symptoms. A silent heart attack is usually detected only after you've had an electrocardiogram. It is more likely to happen in women and people who have diabetes.
The proper diagnosis of a heart attack can not only improve your treatment at the time of the attack, but can also help you make lifestyle changes to reduce your likelihood of future cardiac events.
Heart Attack Prevention
The best way to avoid a heart attack is to take healthy steps toward prevention. As much as 80 percent of heart disease in women is preventable, says the AHA. These steps can help:
- Quit smoking. This is a big step in preventing heart disease. One year after you quit, you cut your risk of heart attack in half.
- Start exercising, with the guidance of your doctor. Something as simple as a brisk 30-minute walk each day can be the best exercise for heart health.
- Make dietary changes to help manage your ratio of bad cholesterol (LDL) to good cholesterol (HDL). Talk to your doctor about what this would look like for you.
- Discuss your personal risk factors with your physician and make the personalized modifications that they recommend for you.
For women, heart attack is a serious health concern. The biggest factor in improving your health is you! Care for your body, and rely on the partnership between you and your medical provider to help you enjoy an optimal state of health.