More than 800,000 Americans have heart attacks every year, including millions of women. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, responsible for about a third of all deaths among women each year.
Yet despite the very real threat of heart problems, data shows that only slightly more than half of women understand that threat, leaving them at risk of disabling (and even deadly) heart attacks. \What’s more, heart attacks can affect women differently than men, which means even women who understand their risks may not know what signs and symptoms to look for.
As a top-ranked cardiovascular practice in Port St. Lucie, Florida, TLC Medical Group Inc. helps women take essential steps to reduce their risk of heart disease and heart attacks. In this post, Anthony B. Lewis MD, FACC, and his team offer a brief overview of heart attack symptoms to help women seek medical care as quickly as possible.
Heart attacks: The basics
Heart attacks happen when your heart doesn’t receive enough oxygen-rich blood to function normally. As a result, the heart tissue starts to struggle and even die off.
Heart attacks can happen for different reasons, but the most common cause is coronary artery disease (CAD). In CAD, sticky, cholesterol-based plaques build up along the inside walls of the coronary arteries, large blood vessels that supply the heart with blood. As the plaques collect, blood flow to the heart slows down and even stops.
In addition to a personal history of CAD and high levels of cholesterol, heart attacks are also associated with other risk factors, including:
- Family history of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Chronic stress
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Older age
- Poor diet
- Drug use
- Hormonal changes, including changes that occur during menopause
- Hormonal birth control
Some autoimmune conditions, like lupus, increase your risk of having a heart attack, too.
For a long time, many people thought being male was another risk factor that made heart attacks more likely. But today, we know women have a similar risk of having a heart attack, especially if they have one or more of the risk factors listed above.
Symptoms to look for
Most people think a heart attack causes extreme chest pain. But while pain is common, some people have “silent heart attacks,” attacks that are so subtle you may not even know you’re having one — even though your heart is still being damaged.
For women, identifying the signs of a heart attack can be even more problematic since they’re not as well-recognized as the symptoms that tend to occur more often in men. They also tend to be subtler, leading many women to attribute their symptoms to a less serious cause, like heartburn or even a bout of the flu.
In addition to chest pain, symptoms to watch for include:
- Pressure or squeezing in your chest or abdomen
- Pain or aching in your jaw, neck, back, or one or both arms
- Shortness of breath
- Severe fatigue
- Pressure in the shoulders or upper back
- Sweating without physical exertion
If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 to seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
Protect your heart
Regular heart health checkups are essential for anyone with risk factors for heart attack or heart disease, and they’re especially important as you age. It’s also important if you have symptoms like chronic heartburn, dizziness, chronic cough, or swelling in your ankles or feet — all potential signs of a heart problem.
Don’t ignore your heart health. To schedule a cardiovascular checkup, call 772-200-3829 or request an appointment online with the team at TLC Medical Group today.