Women often fail to realise they have had a heart attack because they can cope better with the pain, researchers have suggested. The most common heart attack symptom in women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. Although several traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity affect women and men, sometimes, women may have a heart attack without chest pain. This may mean they are more likely to suffer a 'silent' heart attack - in which a patient does not realise what has happened.
Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Unusual fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sweating and/or shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
Causes of a heart attack in women
Heart attacks occur when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked by a buildup of plaque in coronary arteries. While the initial causation can often be pinned on the usual suspects—heavy smokers, people with high-stress lifestyles, or those who are excessively overweight—the not-so-usual suspects can also be at high risk for heart attack. Many people continue to believe that heart attacks represent a problem targeting solely older men, yet heart disease is the number one killer of both women and men in the United States.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, which is why it is imperative that women learn the warning signs and symptoms, see a doctor regularly, and learn their family history.
Dr Mike Knapton, of the British Heart Foundation, said, "Silent heart attack is a major problem in the UK. It is worryingly common for patients to visit their GP having already had a heart attack but they are completely unaware of it." He added, "We know that women often don't realise they can be at risk. This makes them more likely to ignore the symptoms and delay getting help."
Warning Signs for Heart Attack
- Chest discomfort: uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: one or both arms or in the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, either with chest discomfort or alone.
- Other signs, including nausea, lightheadedness, or breaking out in a cold sweat.
Risk Factors for Heart Attack
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Hormone replacement therapy.
- Physical inactivity.
- Gender (men are at greater risk than women).
- Women with diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease than are men with diabetes.
- Smoking. In women, smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than it is in men.
- Pregnancy complications.High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase women's long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes and increase the risk of development of heart disease in the mothers.
- Mental stress and depression.Women's hearts are affected by stress and depression more than men's. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you're having symptoms of depression.
- A lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease, and some research has found women to be more inactive than men.
Prevention of Heart Attack and Stroke
- Engage in physical activity.
- Use diet therapy.
- Maintain/reduce weight.
- Control blood pressure.
- Undergo cholesterol control/statin therapy.
- Control blood sugar.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Quit or don't start smoking.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid saturated or trans fat, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.