Heart attack. The words probably conjure the image of an overweight, overworked, middle-aged man clutching his chest. Right?
There’s a reason for this, and it’s not because women don’t have heart attacks. Au Contraire! They actually die more from heart disease than from any other singular cause, including breast cancer. So why don’t we commonly associate heart attacks and women?
For years, women were never studied in health research regarding cardiovascular disease. The study participants were always men. As a country, the United States became really knowledgeable about what a man’s heart attack looks like. Only in recent years have we discovered that a woman’s heart attack may not present in exactly the same way.
Women, you probably wouldn’t ignore the signs of breast cancer. It’s just as important that you learn and remember the signs of the female heart attack.
This can’t be stressed enough: women might not have chest pain when they have a heart attack. In fact, there is a high probability they won’t. Pain is processed in the brain and depends on many factors. Gender may affect how we interpret those pain signals. So remember that you don’t need to have chest pain to be having a heart attack.
What symptoms are women likely to experience?
- Indigestion or heartburn
- A fluttery feeling in your chest
- Difficulty breathing, or sudden feeling you aren’t getting enough air
- Pain in your stomach or back
- A feeling of doom, that something terrible is about to happen (because it is)
- Sweating for no reason
- Nausea and vomiting
- Extreme tiredness, fatigue, or lethargy
- Insomnia up to a month before the attack
Dr. William Daniel, the chief medical officer or Emerge Clinical Solutions, has some advice specifically for women.
“Don’t ignore how you feel. If you know something isn’t right, you can’t expect symptoms to just go away. Even though women often put themselves last after taking care of others, it’s important to pay attention to your body’s signals and trust your instincts. Women may experience warning signs up to a month before an attack, which means they have a valuable internal warning system when something isn’t right. The true trick to preventing a heart attack is taking preventative measures like exercising and eating well, but most of all, listening to your body.”
With all that said, there is excellent news for women: a new blood test specifically designed to assess heart attack risk for females is available. The new test is more sensitive to levels of a protein called troponin than traditional tests, which is released into the bloodstream when there is damage to heart muscle. The researchers found if the new test was used alongside standard protocols, the rate of accurate heart attack diagnoses in women would have doubled. The test had less impact on the diagnosis for men.
Remember these symptoms and know that help is available should you experience them — but time is critical to saving heart muscle. Your very lives depend on it.