The Warning Signs Your Body Gives You Before a Heart Attack
Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in both men and women worldwide. And contrary to what you might see in a movie, the signs of a real-life heart attack can be easy to miss. "Two-thirds of women will have less-typical, non-Hollywood heart attack symptoms," C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, tells Woman's Day. This means they can be much harder to spot, and it can be easy to think symptoms of a heart attack are related to more simple health issues such as indigestion.
Chest pain and discomfort is the number one symptom of a heart attack, according to Dr. Laxmi Mehta, the section director of Preventative Cardiology and Women's Cardiovascular Health at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. But because women can experience a range of other symptoms when having a heart attack, she says it's important to know the signs and your underlying risk factors. "If you think you're having a heart attack, and you're not sure, call 9-1-1," Dr. Mehta tells Woman's Day. If you think you're experiencing signs of a heart attack, now is the time to put yourself and your health first by calling for help.
Though the symptoms of heart attacks are the same for women of different ethnicities, women of color can be disproportionately affected because they're impacted more by heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes, Dr. Nieca Goldberg, cardiologist and medical director of the Women's Heart Program at NYU Langone Health, explains. There are various reasons for these discrepancies such as a lack of access to regular check-ups, fewer resources for a heart-healthy lifestyle such as healthy foods and exercise facilities, and not receiving similar treatments when women of color do seek out medical attention, Dr. Mehta says. Women who have been pregnant can also have increased risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks, both Dr. Goldberg and Dr. Mehta noted. "We're learning that women who are younger who have babies and have high blood pressure in pregnancy or gestational diabetes or hypertension in pregnancy have increased risk of heart disease in later life," Dr. Goldberg tells Woman's Day. "After you're diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should see your doctor and get your blood pressure checked regularly."
And regardless of your risk factors for heart attack, one thing that everyone can do to make the world a safer place for those who do encounter heart attacks is to become CPR certified. "We know that if a cardiac arrest occurs, people are more likely to do CPR on a man than a woman," Dr. Mehta says, as people can worry about the contact to a woman's breasts and being intrusive. "People survive when there's quick CPR done, so we really want to advocate for people to learn hands-on CPR," she says.
It's not all "Hollywood heart attack."