Famous last words: “I thought I just had the flu!” A woman’s first heart attack could be deadly.
Women are just as likely as men to be victims of heart attack, but they can go under the radar, because their symptoms aren’t always what we expect.
Women’s heart attack symptoms might be different than men’s.
One way or another, we’ve all seen what a heart attack looks like – a man gasping, clutching his chest or rubbing his left arm, and falling to the ground. We are shown these symptoms as early as grade school, and there are accounts all over the media of children calling 911 for Dad, or Uncle, or Grandpa’s heart attack.
Heart disease is the no. 1 killer of women in the United States
According to the American Heart Association, heart attacks in women can present with slightly different warning signs than in men.
Because the causes and symptoms of heart attacks can be very different in women and men, women are more vulnerable to slower diagnosis and inadequate treatment.
In an article updated on August 17, 2016, the editorial staff at The American Heart Association listed these Heart Attack Signs in Women:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
These symptoms have been historically mistaken for acid reflux, normal aging, or even the flu.
Most of these symptoms are easy to discount…on their own.
Body aches + nausea + cold sweat = “Oh, I must be coming down with something” or “Hmm, did I have some bad shellfish?”
It can be tricky to know, sometimes, just exactly what your body is telling you. Many women feel like maybe they should wait, to see if they really are actually having a heart attack, or if it’s something more benign. Many reflect afterward that they had their suspicions, but didn’t want to cause a fuss or inconvenience their family or friends.
Indigestion and jaw pain may be a more potent combination than you’d expect.
In a recent account by an anonymous ER nurse, she describes her “AHA!” moment – the symptoms that lead her to recognize a heart attack that, within just a few minutes, rendered her unconscious.
She writes about being snuggled in a Lazy-boy with her cat when she suddenly experienced an “awful sensation of indigestion.” This was followed by a squeezing sensation that raced up her spine, under her sternum (breast bone), and then radiated to her jaw. Once her jaw began to hurt, the light bulb turned on “AHA!!”
She was able to get to a phone, and the dispatcher had her unlock her front door, then lie down on the floor next to the door. By the time the paramedics arrived, she was unconscious. At the hospital, they were able to reopen her right coronary artery and save her life.
The entire article is available here: An ER nurse’s description of a heart attack.
Advice: Trust Your Gut!
Take a few minutes to watch this video of a “Super Mom” in denial about her symptoms on a busy morning as she helps her children and husband launch their busy day.
The AHA suggests that women trust their intuition. Even if you think you might be having “a little heart attack” – call 911. The Go Red For Women TM campaign made the short video called “Just a Little Heart Attack” to educate women about what to watch for.
Heart disease is preventable.
Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, walking 30 minutes a day, managing stress, or crafting healthier eating habits will go a long way toward lowering your chance of heart disease or stroke.