The most common heart attack symptom in women is like the symptoms of men. It could include chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes. For women, chest pain is not the most noticeable symptom. Women often describe heart attack pain as pressure or tightness. Keep in mind that it is possible to have a heart attack without any chest pain.
Women are more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain. The symptoms may include neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or upper belly discomfort, shortness of breath, pain in one or both arms, nausea or vomiting, sweating, lightheadedness or dizziness, unusual fatigue, and heartburn.
These symptoms may be vague and not as noticeable compared to the crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. This might be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries but also in the smaller ones that supply blood to the heart. Compared with men, women tend to have symptoms more often when resting, or even when asleep.
Because women’s heart attack symptoms can differ from men’s, women might be diagnosed less often with heart disease than are men. Women are more likely to have a heart attack with no severe blockage in an artery, also known as Nonobstructive Coronary Artery disease.
Heart Disease Risk Factors for Women
Diabetes, emotional stress and depression, inactivity, inflammatory diseases, and family history of early heart disease. This appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men.
Menopause causes low levels of estrogen which can cause an increase in the risk of developing disease in smaller blood vessels. Pregnancy complications can activate high blood pressure or diabetes that could increase the mother’s long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.
Smoking can contribute to a greater risk factor for heart disease in women.
Living a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Try these heart-healthy strategies:
Eat a healthy diet. Choose whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid saturated or trans fats, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.
Exercise and maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, losing even a few pounds can lower heart disease risks. Regular activity helps keep the heart healthy. In general, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, on most days of the week. If that’s more than you can do, start slowly to build up your endurance.
For a bigger health boost, aim for about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day, five days a week. Also do strength training exercises two or more days a week.
It’s OK to break up your workouts into several 10-minute sessions during a day. You’ll still get the same heart-health benefits.
Interval training — which alternates short bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity — is another way to maintain a healthy weight, improve blood pressure and keep the heart healthy. For example, include short bursts of jogging or fast walking into your regular walks.
You can also add exercise to your daily activities by taking the stairs in place of an elevator. Walk or ride your bike to work or run errands. March in place while watching television.
Manage your stress. Stress can cause the arteries to tighten, which can increase the risk of heart disease, particularly coronary microvascular disease. Getting more exercise, practicing mindfulness and connecting with others in support groups are some ways to tame stress.
Avoid or limit alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy women, that means up to one drink a day.
Manage other health conditions for you have been diagnosed with. Follow your treatment plan. Take medications as prescribed, such as blood pressure medications, blood thinners and aspirin.
If you’ve had a heart attack, your health care provider might recommend that you take low-dose aspirin every day to help prevent another. Aspirin can increase the risk of stomach bleeding. Aspirin guidelines for the primary prevention of heart attacks vary. Talk with your health care provider about the risks and benefits of taking aspirin.
In general, heart disease treatment for women is like the treatment for men. It can include medications, angioplasty and stenting, coronary bypass surgery and cardiac rehabilitation.
Finally, if you have symptoms of a heart attack or think you’re having one, call for emergency medical help immediately. Do not drive yourself to the emergency room.
If you believe we can help you, please feel free to contact our office to schedule an appointment. We look forward to keeping you healthy.