American Heart Month Part 4: Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among American women. In the U.S., nearly 300,000 women died in 2013 from heart disease. About 435,000 women have heart attacks each year. Of the number of women who have heart attacks, 42 percent will die within one year. This percentage is significant because just 24 percent of men who have had heart attacks die within one year. Delayed treatment is one of the reasons why women may be more likely to die from heart attacks.
Immediate treatment for heart attacks results in better outcomes. The longer treatment is delayed, the more damage can result to the heart muscle. Heart attack symptoms in women may differ from what men experience, and this can result in confusion about symptoms and misdiagnosis. That confusion and misdiagnosis can lead to treatment delays. In fact, an American Heart Association study found that women are more than 50 percent more likely to encounter treatment delays for major cardiac events than men.
No one is certain why heart attack symptoms in women differ from those of men. The confusion about women’s symptoms occurs because they mirror other common health issues, like indigestion or back pain. This makes it even more important for women to understand their symptoms and take action when they experience them.
What Are the Heart Attack Symptoms in Women?
While women may experience chest and arm pain as symptoms of heart attack, similar to men, they are more likely to experience other “silent” symptoms:
- Shortness of breath: If you’re feeling short of breath during everyday activities, or if the shortness of breath is unusual for you, take note of it.
- Back and arm pain: Back pain may begin in the chest and spread to the lower or upper back. Unlike men, women are more likely to have pain in either arm as opposed to just the left arm.
- Jaw pain: Pain in your jaw, particularly during or after exercise or strenuous activity is a sign to watch for.
- Nausea, vomiting and indigestion: Feeling flu-like, having pain in the stomach, vomiting and indigestion or acid reflux.
- Unusual fatigue or weakness: If your feelings of fatigue are different, if you’re feeling more exhausted after exercise than usual, or if you’re unusually tired after typical daily activities, this could be a signal.
- Sweating: A cold sweat when you’re not feeling stressed and you haven’t exerted yourself could be a sign to watch for, especially if it’s combined with shortness of breath.
- Anxiety: If your heart feels like it’s racing and you’re experiencing sweating, you might assume it’s anxiety. But if you’re not under stress, it could be a sign that your heart is taxed.
Rosie O’Donnell, the actor and talk show host, had a heart attack in 2012. In her case, as with many women, the symptoms differed from the typical chest pain. Instead, O’Donnell experienced a number of heart attack symptoms more typical of women, such as nausea and vomiting, unusual fatigue and body aches.
If You’re Having These Symptoms
Listen to your body and what it’s telling you. If you’re experiencing the symptoms listed above, see your doctor. The symptoms could be a sign of an artery blockage or something more severe. The earlier you see your doctor, the greater the likelihood of preventing a heart attack.
When O’Donnell experienced her heart attack symptoms, she dismissed them and took an aspirin instead of seeking help. She didn’t see her doctor until the next day. When she did, O’Donnell’s doctor found she had a 99 percent artery blockage.
Knowing the heart attack symptoms for women and acting on them when they happen is crucial. If you wait to seek help, you may have fewer treatment options and you could be at greater risk of death.
If you are having the above symptoms combined with chest pain or discomfort, call 9-1-1. If you have the feeling that something is wrong, trust your instincts. Don’t hesitate to call for help!