With the news of celebrity Ellen DeGeneres having chest pain, it is important to remember that women experience different physical symptoms than men when experiencing a heart attack. Many women never have chest pain or chest discomfort while chest pain is considered the most important symptoms with a heart attack.
According to the 2003 NIH study, women have these symptoms of a heart attack:
- symptoms of indigestion,
- upper abdominal pressure
- sleep disturbances
- weakness in the arms
- pain in the back or shoulders
- chest burning
- cold sweats
- nausea & vomiting
These can be early warning signals for an acute myocardial infarction (AMI) or heart attack in women. Chest related heart attack signs in men and women are a pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain the center of the chest that spreads to the neck, shoulder or jaw. Women have silent ischemia or no chest pain even though blood flow to the heart is restricted.
If you think you are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 and get to an emergency department. Women with chest pain wait too long to go to the emergency room, delaying critical treatment time. Chew an uncoated aspirin as directed right away as this can reduce damage to the heart muscle. Treatment, either with surgery or medical treatment, needs to be diagnosed promptly. Getting treatment early is best as clot buster medicines and a coronary balloon angioplasty can be done in a catherization lab. Delay can result in long lasting heart damage or death. Following a heart attack, a cardiac rehabilitation program of regular exercise reduces mortality during recovery. Cardiac rehabilitation can boost your physical strength and endurance after a heart attack.
Being a different gender, there are different tests for women to rule out a heart attack. Testing done in the emergency room for AMI include lab tests including cardiac enzymes, electrocardiogram (EKG), angiogram and a different kind of test called an intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) to detect arterial plaque in women and/or a MRI of the heart.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. For women, it is the third leading cause of death among women aged 25- 44 years and the second leading cause of death among women aged 45-64 years of age. During mid-life, a woman's risk for heart disease rises due to a woman's body stops producing estrogen. Women's symptoms of heart attack tend to be more subtle and women fail to take preventive measures.
Coronary heart disease causes more deaths in the U.S. than any other cause with more women than men dying each year. Visit you doctor or clinic often to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. Don't smoke, control your diabetes, use less salt, keep a healthy weight, decrease stress, take high blood pressure medications as directed and stay active.
Terry L. Doire has been a registered nurse for more than 30 years in various areas of health care.