Heart Attacks in Women

One woman's heart attack story

In 1991, I went to the ER with chest pains twice in one week. They said it was ulcers (bleeding in the stomach). Then the pain became very intense. Again, the ER said there was nothing they could do. I refused to leave and was admitted for observation. Later, the doctor on duty saw my EKG and asked, "Where's the 34-year-old who had the massive heart attack?" I had emergency surgery. However, the damage was done, and only part of my heart muscle functions. I had to quit a job I loved, and my life is completely changed. They thought I was too young to have a heart attack.

Heart Attacks in Women Kill
Heart Attacks in Women Kill

What is heart disease?

Heart disease in women includes a number of problems affecting the heart and the blood vessels in the heart. Types of heart disease include:

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type and is the leading cause of heart attacks. When you have CAD, your arteries become hard and narrow. Blood has a hard time getting to the heart, so the heart does not get all the blood it needs. CAD can lead to:

  • Angina (an-JEYE-nuh). Angina is chest pain or discomfort that happens when the heart does not get enough blood. It may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain, often in the chest, but sometimes the pain is in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. It can also feel like indigestion (upset stomach). Angina is not a heart attack, but having angina means you are more likely to have a heart attack.
  • Heart attack. A heart attack occurs when an artery is severely or completely blocked, and the heart does not get the blood it needs for more than 20 minutes.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump blood through the body as well as it should. This means that other organs, which normally get blood from the heart, do not get enough blood. It does not mean that the heart stops. Signs of heart failure include:

Heart arrhythmias (uh-RITH-mee-uhz) are changes in the beat of the heart. Most people have felt dizzy, faint, out of breath or had chest pains at one time. These changes in heartbeat are harmless for most people. As you get older, you are more likely to have arrhythmias. Don't panic if you have a few flutters or if your heart races once in a while. If you have flutters and other symptoms such as dizziness or shortness of breath, call 911 right away.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/4/2014

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Heart Attacks in Women - Prevention Question: As a woman, how do you prevent heart disease or a heart attack?
Heart Attacks in Women - Blood Pressure Question: If you've been diagnosed with hypertension, how have you lowered your blood pressure?
Heart Attacks in Women - Cholesterol and Triglycerides Question: How often do you get your levels for cholesterol and triglycerides checked? Please share your experience.
Heart Attacks in Women - Signs and Symptoms Question: If you've had a heart attack, what were your signs and symptoms?
Heart Attacks in Women - Heredity Question: Does heart disease run in your family? In what ways are you trying to minimize the risk?

Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

Although chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom of a heart attack, heart attack victims may experience a variety of symptoms including:

  • Pain, fullness, and/or squeezing sensation of the chest
  • Jaw pain, toothache, headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or general epigastric (upper middle abdomen) discomfort
  • Sweating
  • Heartburn and/or indigestion
  • Arm pain (more commonly the left arm, but may be either arm)
  • Upper back pain
  • General malaise (vague feeling of illness)
  • No symptoms (Approximately one quarter of all heart attacks are silent, without chest pain or new symptoms. Silent heart attacks are especially common among patients with diabetes mellitus.)