Many people think of heart disease and heart attack as primarily affecting men. A few decades ago, this was largely true. But now, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men. CDC statistics show that in the 21st Century, heart disease kills almost as many women as men. Experts say one problem is that women underestimate their risk and brush off warning signs. While some of the symptoms and risk factors are the same, heart attacks in women can be more subtle and easier to ignore. That’s why awareness and monitoring are essential.
Are The Warning Signs of Heart Attacks Different for Women?
Heart attacks happen when the blood flow that supplies needed oxygen to the heart is cut off. A buildup of fat, cholesterol or plaque in the arteries can block blood to the heart. We often imagine sharp, dramatic chest pain when we think about a heart attack. But that’s not always the case, especially in women. Chest pain is a leading warning sign of a heart attack in women, just as it is in men. However, women don’t always experience chest pressure. Women often experience more subtle signs that may lead to confusion. Women may think they have another condition like the flu and ignore symptoms. According to the American Heart Association, signs of a heart attack in women can include:
- Pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
- Upper back pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme fatigue
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
- Nausea or vomiting
What Are Risk Factors for Heart Attacks in Women?
According to the Mayo Clinic, well-known risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity affect women and men. But other factors may play a more significant role in developing heart disease in women. These include:
- Emotional stress or depression
- Menopause and age: women 55 and older are at the highest risk
- Pregnancy or a history of preeclampsia
- Family history of early heart disease
- Inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
What Should I Do If I Think I’m Having a Heart Attack?
If you’re a woman, don’t ignore the warning signs, especially if you are at higher risk.
- Listen to your body and seek help if something feels off.
- Call 911 or have someone drive you to the hospital right away.
- Take aspirin if your provider recommends it. It can prevent blood from clotting while you wait to get medical help.
What Should I Do If I Think Someone Else Is Having a Heart Attack?
If a friend, family member or coworker is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away. If the person dismisses her symptoms, gently but firmly encourage her to seek medical care. It’s better to get help for a false alarm than to risk disability or death by ignoring signs of a heart attack. If the person is unconscious and doesn’t have a pulse, begin CPR. Learning CPR is an invaluable life-saving skill. It can help keep a patient alive until emergency help arrives.
How Can I Prevent Heart Attack?
For women, increasing awareness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are essential to promoting heart health and preventing heart attacks. Strategies include the following:
- Incorporate exercise into your routine. Shoot for 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day.
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking.
- Manage stress through therapy, yoga, meditation, and other practices.
- Stay on top of chronic conditions, including diabetes.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Schedule routine checkups with your primary care provider. Regular blood work can detect early warning signs of heart disease. Seeing your primary care provider regularly can help you focus on wellness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
At Comprehensive Primary Care, promoting heart health for all of our patients is an ongoing priority. We understand that support and awareness are vital, especially for women. So often, we focus on others and put our health needs last. At CPC, we focus on prevention and wellness, including support in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and medical weight loss programs as needed. One of our best prevention tools is helping our patients manage chronic conditions. The first step is scheduling that checkup to establish a heart health baseline and get you on the path to overall wellness.