It's a fundamental fact that men and women are different. They're physically different, yes, but they're different in the ways in which they express emotion, respond to conflict and socialise, too.
Not surprisingly, this pattern carries over to their cardiac health too. In this case when it specifically concerns symptoms/signs of a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms in women are different than in men. In some instances, signs of a heart attack in women are often so subtle, they can go unnoticed — in fact, it's not unusual for a women with high risk factors to have experienced one and not know it. So it's important to know the signs and symptoms of one so you can get help fast.
Why Heart Attack Symptoms in Women Are Different
Men's and women's heart attack symptoms are different largely because the way their coronary arteries tend to become blocked is different. Most men develop blockages in their major blood vessels. Heart attack symptoms in women are largely due to coronary microvascular disease, wherein blood flow is blocked by smaller blood vessels.
Many of the traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, affect women and men equally. But other factors may play a bigger role in a woman's risk for heart disease, the Mayo Clinic says. For instance, women with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease, as are women who smoke and women who are physically inactive. Menopause can also affect a woman's risk for heart disease and heart attacks, as can complications during pregnancy.
The demands of the Indian society also have an effect on a woman's risk of heart attack. India's patriarchal society, the India Today reports, demands that women focus on taking care of their homes, husbands and children before themselves. As a result, they often neglect their own health, and women's hearts are affected differently by stress than men's are.
What to Watch For
Chest pain is the symptom most often associated with heart attacks, but it is not always severe or even the most prominent symptom for women. A woman can experience many symptoms during a heart attack that a man does not, according to the Mayo Clinic. Three especially concerning symptoms for women, according to the Cleveland Clinic, are:
- Unusual, and often extreme, fatigue: If your usual exercise routine has left you more winded than usual, or if simple activities leave your exhausted, this could be a sign that something's wrong with your heart. Sleep disturbance, too, can be a sign of a heart attack.
- Unusual sweating: It could be hot flashes that are be causing you to perspire, but sudden sweating and clamminess, especially when experienced with chest pain or fatigue, are common heart attack symptoms in women.
- Unusual pain in your neck, jaw or back: Most men experience heart attack-related pain in their chest or left arm. Women can experience it in either arm, and often also feel sudden pain in their neck, jaw and back, too.
Women also experience nausea, vomiting, and lightheadedness or dizziness as signs of a heart attack. But sometimes women don't experience any symptoms of a heart attack at all. This is called a silent heart attack. Usually, these heart attacks go undetected unless you have an electrocardiogram.
Because less is known about silent heart attacks, their causes are harder to identify and treat, the Massachusetts General Hospital says. But the ways to reduce your risk of having a silent heart attack are the same as preventing any type of heart attack: Eat a healthy diet, maintain an active lifestyle, maintain a healthy weight, don't smoke, and keep regular appointments with your doctor.
When to Call Emergency Services
Women often say that they noticed some symptoms weeks or a month before a heart attack. The sooner you recognize and report a problem, the better the chances are of catching an issue before it becomes a full-blown heart attack.
If you experience sudden and extreme fatigue, sweating and/or pain in your upper body, it's important to call an ambulance or the emergency services. Don't drive yourself to the hospital; that could delay important treatment needed to save your life. When you call, tell the emergency dispatcher that you may be having a heart attack, then, follow their instructions. Recognizing a heart attack when it happens is important so you can get proper treatment and make lifestyle changes to reduce your likelihood of future cardiac events.
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