Heart Attacks and Women: Recognizing the Symptoms

Signs of a heart attack may not be as obvious as television shows and movies suggest. There may be no clutching of the chest, no debilitating pain. And that is especially true for women, who are more likely than men to have subtle symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting or extreme fatigue

And if a woman experiencing a heart attack has a sensation of pain or pressure, it might not be near her heart. Pain and pressure could appear in the lower chest or upper abdomen, the upper back or even the jaw. After a heart attack, it’s not uncommon for women to say, “I thought I had the flu” or “I thought it was heartburn.”

Once a woman understands that heart-attack symptoms might not be dramatic, she is more prepared to respond quickly in what can be a life-threatening situation. Even though the symptoms of a heart attack can be subtle, medical intervention is essential.Wear Red Day Women

Every 34 seconds in the United States, someone—a man or woman—has a heart attack, which happens when blood flow to the heart is cut off or reduced because the heart’s blood vessels are blocked by a blood clot, cholesterol or plaque.

If you experience heart-attack symptoms—dramatic or subtle—call 911 immediately. The emergency medical personnel who respond can assess and begin to treat you for a heart attack en route to the hospital. They can perform an electrocardiogram (ECG) test and transmit its results to the emergency room, where a physician can make a diagnosis. If you are having a particular kind of heart attack known as STEMI , or ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, the physician can be ready to perform a cardiac catheterization, or cath, almost as soon as you arrive. Cardiologists at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center use this procedure to look at the heart’s blood vessels; if a blockage exists, they can remove it by inflating a balloon inside the artery, deploying a stent or removing a clot. The faster the blocked blood vessel is reopened, allowing blood to flow to the heart, the better the chance of recovery.

To help prevent a heart attack, see your doctor regularly to learn about and discuss your blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol and blood-sugar levels, and other important indicators of heart health. Do what you can to maintain or improve these important measurements.

Seconds matter during a heart attack. Learn the subtle symptoms of heart attack so you can respond quickly should the need arise.

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Category: Heart & Vascular

About the Author ()

Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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