When most people picture a heart attack, they imagine what they’ve seen in movies or on TV. A man clutches his chest or his arm before falling to the ground. But what happens when it’s a woman experiencing a heart attack?
Heart disease is the most common cause of death for all adults in the United States – and heart attack symptoms in women can be much more subtle. Recognizing the signs of heart attack in women can help get you or someone you love the necessary treatment as quickly as possible.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
The most common heart attack symptom is pressure, pain, or discomfort in the chest. But it’s often a mild pain that can be dismissed as heartburn. Many women have no chest pain at all and instead present other signs of a heart attack including:
- Shortness of breath
- Jaw, neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unusual fatigue
If you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 911. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
Causes of Heart Attack in Women
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity are common causes of heart attack in both men and women. However, there are other risk factors that play a bigger role for women. These risk factors include:
- Stress and depression: These place a greater strain on a woman’s heart and make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Smoking: Studies show that smoking is more likely to cause heart disease in women than men.
- Diabetes: Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease.
- Menopause: Lowered levels of estrogen significantly increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Broken Heart Syndrome: It sounds like an urban legend, but broken heart syndrome is a real condition where the shock of stressful situations like the loss of a loved one can damage the heart muscle.
- Chemotherapy/Radiation: Certain treatments for breast cancer can increase the risk of a heart attack in women.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes can increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
How to Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack in Women
The best way to reduce the risk of heart attack in women is to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle. Stop smoking. Exercise regularly. Maintain a healthy weight. If you have other health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, you should follow your doctor’s instructions to manage these conditions.
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides support to patients with heart disease who need extra help. Please call 1-888-564-3405 to learn more about our HeartLink program.
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