Younger women tend to dismiss or ignore symptoms of a heart attack much more often than men. This is one reason younger women suffering heart attack do not recover as well as men in the same situation. Today we review the symptoms of a heart attack in younger women, which may be different than those experienced by a man.
Many men and women, including many doctors, still have in mind the “Hollywood heart attack” — a man clenches his chest and falls over dead. But often heart attacks don’t happen that way, especially in women. The symptoms in women are often more subtle and varied.
Dr. Judith Lichtman and associates interviewed 30 women aged 30 to 55 who were recovering from a recent heart attack, and published their findings in the latest issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. They found that the symptoms in these younger women varied substantially from the Hollywood stereotype. The women frequently underestimated their risk for having a heart attack, and sometimes they delayed seeking care because they were concerned about taking care of their family.
Here is a list of frequent symptoms experienced by women having a heart attack (from the American Heart Association):
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and returns;
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach;
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. The shortness of breath may come on without any physical exertion to explain it;
- 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 more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Particularly women who have a strong family history of heart disease or heart attack, or have risk factors should be alert to these symptoms. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, and smoking. The more risk factors, the higher the risk. If you have any of these, even if you are a younger woman, it’s important to seek preventive care from your doctor.
The published study says “heart attack is the leading cause of death among young women” and “women delay longer than men [in seeking medical care when they have symptoms]”. They often think their symptoms are something else, such as a bad case of the flu, or acid reflux. Particularly if you have risk factors or a family history, be alert.
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