You are at a gathering with a group of women in their sixties. One of them looks increasingly unwell, is dizzy and sweating profusely. Would you know she’s having a heart attack? Are you familiar with the less typical signs of a myocardial infarction, and would you be able to recognize them and act in time?
The stakes are high. Heart attacks are one of the most common causes of death in the country. During an attack, an artery in the heart becomes blocked, which prevents the blood from nourishing a section of the heart muscle. The longer cells remain without blood, the more they deteriorate and risk dying. This is why prompt medical intervention to restore blood flow reduces the risk of after-effects and death.
People often forget that women are just as much at risk for a heart attack as men. And very few realize that women’s symptoms are often different from those of men. In a study of 1.1 million people, a surprising 42 percent of women admitted to hospital for a heart attack did not experience any chest pain, compared with 31 percent of men. Women were also more likely than men to die after a heart attack. For example, women under 55 who had heart attacks with no chest discomfort had two to three times the risk of dying in the hospital, compared with men of the same age with “classic” heart attack symptoms.
This study confirms that chest pain is the most common sign of a heart attack, but it’s important to keep in mind that about one out of three men and four out of ten women never present with this symptom. Classic signs of a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath and radiating pain in the neck, back, jaw and arms. Women are more likely to show “atypical” symptoms such as cold sweats, weakness, dizziness and gastrointestinal symptoms. When in doubt, it is best to call Info-Santé (811) or 911.