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Sharp Health News

Why do women miss signs of a heart attack?

Sept. 22, 2015

Women and heart disease

For years, people believed that heart disease occurs primarily in men, but the disease is actually the number one killer of women, causing one in four deaths each year.  

More women than men have died from heart disease since the mid-1980s and women are less likely than men to survive a heart attack. To complicate matters, women often experience different symptoms than the typical chest pain associated with a heart attack in men. And, in some cases, women may not have any symptoms at all.

Surprising symptoms
Women may not necessarily experience pain in the traditional sense when suffering a heart attack, but might describe the following symptoms:

  • Tightness, squeezing, spasms or a feeling of fullness in the chest or upper abdomen
  • Discomfort in the chest that extends to the shoulders, back, jaw or teeth
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating or dizziness 
  • Shortness of breath

The first hour of a heart attack is critical, so it’s imperative that women call 911 immediately if they are experiencing any or a combination of these symptoms. As each minute passes, more heart tissue is deprived of oxygen and deteriorates or dies.

Risk factors
According to the American Heart Association, 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease, some controllable and others not. A family history of the disease increases a woman’s chances of developing it, as does menopause.

However, there are other risk factors that a woman can modify, treat or control:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels 
  • Lack of exercise

Prevention is possible
It is important for women to understand that by eliminating as many of their risk factors as possible, they increase their chances of preventing heart disease.

The following tips can help:

  • Know your family history and discuss it with your doctor.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels down. 
  • Manage your weight by eating more fruits, vegetables and grains; cutting down on portions; and reducing your intake of foods that are high in sodium or fat.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Exercise at least three to four times a week for 30 minutes to help keep your heart and blood vessels toned.
Women should talk to their health care providers about their personal risk for heart disease. Armed with appropriate information and care, heart disease in women can be treated or even prevented.

Dr. Sharon Sadeghinia is a cardiovascular doctor affiliated with Sharp HealthCare.

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