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Heart Attacks in Women
|What Are The Symptoms Of A Heart Attack?
The most common symptoms (image) are:
Sudden crushing pain that starts in the center of the chest, which lasts longer than a few minutes. It may briefly go away before coming back again, only stronger.
The feeling of discomfort may radiate to one (usually the left) or both arms, the back, jaw, neck and even the stomach.
Shortness Of Breath
Breathing difficulties may occur just before the chest pain. In fact it may be the only sign of a heart attack (see silent heart attack).
Other Possible Symptoms:
• Heart palpitations or pounding heartbeat.
• Nausea, vomiting or severe indigestion.
• Dizziness with weakness.
• Cold sweats with no obvious reason.
• Suddenly feeling extremely tired.
• Panic with a feeling that something awful is about to happen.
• Flu like symptoms 2 to 4 weeks before the heart attack.
When Do I Call An Ambulance?
Dial 911 if you experience any of the above symptoms for more than 5 minutes. Wait for an ambulance or have someone drive you to emergency. Never drive yourself unless you really have no other option. Heart attack symptoms tend to appear suddenly and may last for 20 minutes. Or they may disappear after a few minutes and then return.
How Are Symptoms Different In Women?
While the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is some type of chest pain or discomfort, women are less likely to experience severe pain. Some only experience a fleeting chest discomfort which disappears within a few minutes and may be mistaken for indigestion. In fact 33 percent of women experience no chest pain at all, researchers are not sure why this is. Other notable points:
1. Women are twice as likely to experience atypical symptoms as men.
2. Shortness of breath is a particularly important symptom for women, it can appear before or at the same time as chest pain.
3. Sweating is less common in women than in men.
4. Women commonly experience prodromal symptoms (pre-heart attack symptoms) for up to 6 months before a heart attack occurs. One study showed that 78 percent of women experienced at least one pre-heart attack symptom for more than 1 month before their heart attack, either once a day or several times a week. The most common prodromal symptoms are unusual tiredness (71 percent) and sleeping difficulties (50 percent). A further significant number experienced flu like symptoms for 2 to 4 weeks beforehand. While some report they felt anxious and had a feeling of impending doom.
The bottom line: Women can experience a heart attack quite differently to men. Although some report the classic sign of crushing chest pain, many women experience vaguer symptoms such as tiredness, anxiety, dizziness and trouble sleeping. If you have a pattern of symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately about heart disease testing. If you feel they are not taking your complaint seriously, talk to another doctor. A lack of awareness both among women and doctors to the subtle signs of a heart attack can cause delays in diagnosis and heart attack treatment. Many life saving treatments such as thrombolytic therapy (clot buster) and coronary angioplasty (image) ideally need to be given within 90 minutes of a heart attack. Women tend to delay reporting their symptoms which means they reduce their chance of survival. The more you delay, the more heart muscle will die and the more severe the resulting disability. Literally, time is muscle.
Panic Attack Or Heart Attack?
Heart disease in women is often mistaken for a panic attack. Chest pain in women, combined with palpitations, shortness of breath, anxiety and indigestion are common symptoms of both panic attacks and heart attacks. If you have any of these symptoms which last longer than 3 minutes, or if they return and come back, dial 911 immediately. Ask the doctors in emergency to perform an electrocardiogram (image) to test if the symptoms are being caused by the heart or not. Recent research now shows that older women who experience panic attacks are more likely to experience a heart attack than those who do not suffer panic attacks. Read also about heart attack tests.
Heartburn Or A Heart Attack?
About 10 percent of people who turn up in emergency complaining of symptoms of chest pain which might be a heart attack turn out to have indigestion (heartburn or acid reflux). The symptoms are very similar, the location of the pain is usually the best clue to a diagnosis. Heart attack pain radiates from the chest outwards to the arms, especially the left arm. Heartburn usually stays central in the chest and radiates upwards to the neck or throat. However, it is not worth taking chances. If it is a heart attack, the first hour is the most critical for treatment. So always go to an emergency department if you have any doubts about the cause of your pain.