Heart attacks in women present with different symptoms

Did you know that the symptoms of a heart attack vary from one person to another, and that they don’t always include typical symptoms, especially in women?

When you think of a heart attack, what images spontaneously come to mind? Grabbing one’s chest in pain, and then falling to the floor, like in the movies? A real heart attack is usually much more subtle, especially in women!

Although heart attacks can come on very suddenly, as we see in movies, they usually cause earlier symptoms that can be rather vague and not necessarily associated with the onset of a major cardiac event.

What atypical signs and symptoms should women watch for?

  • A vague feeling of discomfort in the chest that doesn’t go away with rest
  • A feeling of pressure, heaviness, burning or significant discomfort in the shoulder, back or jaw, whereas we usually expect this to happen in the left arm
  • A feeling of breathlessness, or of unusual or inexplicable fatigue (i.e. with no physical effort, or disproportionate to the amount of effort expended)
  • Being paler or weaker than usual, or sweating more
  • Feeling nauseous, vomiting or having indigestion
  • Suddenly feeling very anxious or afraid, for no apparent reason

While these atypical symptoms occur more frequently in women, they can also manifest in men. However, women are more likely to minimise these symptoms and not see a physician when they occur. Another problem is that atypical symptoms are sometimes thought to be digestive problems, which delays their proper diagnosis as a cardiac problem.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. It’s important to pay particular attention to our heart health. If you experience any of the symptoms described above, don’t hesitate to see a physician, especially if you have any heart disease risk factors (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, or a family history of heart disease). However, even people with a perfectly healthy lifestyle can have a heart attack. It’s better to seek medical help and find nothing, than to wait and risk your life!

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