Warning Signs of Heart Attacks in Women - Consumer Justice Foundation

Warning Signs of Heart Attacks in Women

Written by Faith Anderson on August 23, 2012
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Heart Attacks Not Uncommon in Younger Women

“Relatively young women…have the highest rate of heart-attack fatalities, because their symptoms are frequently misdiagnosed” both by the victims themselves and by emergency physicians, according to Dr. Merz. One alarming study found that up to 50% of the time, women’s heart attack symptoms go unrecognized by emergency and medical professionals, and reports indicate that nearly two-thirds of heart attack deaths in women occur in individuals with no history of chest pain. If you assume you’re too young to have a heart attack, there are some statistics you should know. Of the 435,000 American women who suffer heart attacks annually, 83,000 are under the age of 65, and 35,000 are under 55. In addition, under the age of 50, heart attacks in women are twice as likely to be fatal as heart attacks in men.

Reducing Your Risk of Heart Attack

To protect yourself from deadly heart attacks, get tested for common risk factors of heart attack, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Tell your doctor if you have a family history of heart disease, especially if relatives were affected by the condition at an early age. Reduce your risk of heart attack by eating a heating diet, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re a smoker, here’s yet another reason to quit the habit: Women who smoke risk having a heart attack 19 years earlier than non-smoking women. According to a study that observed nearly 120,000 women ages 30 to 55 for 12 years found that those who smoked had a four-times increased risk of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease than non-smokers.

Warning Signs of Heart Attacks in Women

Because most heart attack research has focused primarily on men, even heart attack symptoms that are extremely common in women are called “atypical,” when they are actually only atypical in men. As Dr. Merz says, “Lack of awareness of women’s warning signs – and not getting health care soon enough – are major contributors to why heart attacks kill more women than men every year.” When a heart attack occurs, getting medical help within the first hour cuts the risk of dying in half. If you have any of the following warning signs, call 911 immediately:

  • Non-chest pain – Instead of intense chest pain, women may develop less severe pain in the shoulders, upper back, neck, arm or jaw.
  • Shortness of breath – During a heart attack, or even prior to an attack, man women report gasping for breath or difficulty talking, as if they had just run a marathon.
  • Heavy sweating – Women suffering a heart attack may suddenly be drenched in sweat for no apparent reason. Many women feel both hot and cold, with clammy skin, during a heart attack.
  • Unusual fatigue – According to one study of female heart attack survivors, 71% experienced unusual fatigue in the days and weeks before the attack, sometimes so severe they were too tired to walk to the mailbox or make the bed.
  • Anxiety – Many women experience a feeling of intense fear before a heart attack strikes or during an attack.
  • Nausea or dizziness – During a heart attack, women frequently vomit or feel like they are going to pass out. The nausea may also feel like heartburn.
Posted Under: United States
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