Recognizing heart attack symptoms in men and women

JOPLIN, Mo. — We continue our February series on heart health with a look at the symptoms of a heart attack, and how they can differ from women to men.

“The symptoms generally are the same. The number one symptom for both men and women is chest pain. It’s going to be a chest heaviness or a pressure. The classic thing is a grip to your chest. Someone sitting on my chest — I can’t get air. Sometimes it’ll go down your left arm (and/or) up your left neck,” said Dr. Cali Clark, Chief Resident, Freeman Internal Medicine.

But that sometimes comes with other symptoms like nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, or lightheadedness. That can make a patient or doctor look first for other causes, especially for female patients.

“If a man comes to the emergency room and says, ‘I have chest pain,’ they kind of just go with it. If a woman comes in and says, ‘I have chest pain but I’m also really nauseous. I’ve been throwing up. I’ve been dizzy,’ then they may not immediately think, well, this could be a heart attack,” said Dr. Clark.

And heart attack is the leading cause of death for American women — meaning it’s something women should pay attention to.

“Men definitely do have more heart attacks. We know that the numbers do show that, but actually the numbers start to close as women get past menopause,” said Dr. Clark.

There are warning flags that are common for both men and women — such as smoking, diabetes, and obesity. But there are others unique to female patients.

“Gestational hypertension. Did you ever have high blood pressure? During pregnancy? Did you have preeclampsia eclampsia? Did you have a premature delivery? Those things affect cardiovascular outcomes and women. Those are women specific risk factors that aren’t being talked about. There are other conditions — rheumatoid arthritis is a big one. Systemic lupus — lupus, those conditions raise your chance of having a heart attack later in life,” said Dr. Clark.

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