What are the warning signs of a heart attack in a woman?

Heart Attack: Warning Signs

Many women think that the typical signs of a heart attack like crushing chest pain and shortness of breath can be easily recognized and cannot be missed.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death among women in the United States, with one out of every three women dying from heart disease.

The signs and symptoms of heart disease in women are different than those in men.

Common heart attack signs and symptoms in women include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort 
    • Chest pain is described as a squeezing or feeling of fullness in the chest, or an extremely uncomfortable sensation.
  • Pain in your arm, back, neck, or jaw 
    • Women experience this type of pain during a heart attack more than men. 
    • This pain is so sudden that it can wake you up from sleep
  • Stomach pain 
    • Stomach pain during a heart attack can make a woman feel like she has an ulcer.
    • Some women can feel such severe abdominal pressure it feels as if an elephant is sitting on her stomach.
  • Shortness of breath
    • Women may experience sudden shortness of breath—without doing anything—as if they have run a marathon.
  • Sweating
    • Sudden sweating without an obvious reason should prompt women to visit the doctor to rule out heart attack.
  • Fatigue 
    • Feeling extremely exhausted, even with simple activities like walking, can be a sign of a heart attack.
    • Women think they feel fatigued due to stress from their professional and personal lives, which is not always the case.

What does a mini heart attack feel like?

You must have often heard people saying something about a mini heart attack or mild heart attack. There is no such term as a “mini” heart attack in the medical dictionary, but it can be compared to a mild heart attack or a silent heart attack.

Mild heart attack 

  • A partial block in your coronary artery that causes mild signs and symptoms of heart attack is called a mild heart attack.
  • If your doctor tells you that you have had a mild heart attack, it probably means your heart is not damaged much and is working properly.

Silent heart attack 

  • A doctor discovers that you had a silent heart attack when he routinely examines you and orders an electrocardiogram.
  • This heart attack might have occurred “silently” over months or years before without you even knowing.
  • A silent heart attack does not exhibit chest pain and shortness of breath — the typical signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Women are more likely to have a “silent” heart attack as per an analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

What are the 4 silent signs of a heart attack?

Many women think that the typical signs of a heart attack like crushing chest pain and shortness of breath can be easily recognized and cannot be missed. Anyone can experience these symptoms, but many women experience “silent” symptoms that may be missed.

The silent signs of a heart attack that may be missed by women include:

  1. Unusual fatigue. Women who feel fatigued due to a heart attack may think the fatigue might be due to juggling between typical work and household duties.
  2. Burning pain in the chest. Women tend to relate this to hyperacidity.
  3. Pain in upper back, shoulder, arms, neck, or jaw. 
  4. Sleep disturbances. Women who are at risk of heart disease, including those who are obese, may experience difficulty in getting good sleep, which may be a warning sign of a heart attack.

If a woman has been experiencing the above symptoms, she should visit the doctor right away to rule out the possibility of heart disease or heart attack that has been quietly giving signals.

What should women do to prevent a heart attack?

Women should schedule a visit with their doctor to know about their personal risks for heart disease.

Lifestyle modifications that may prevent heart attack in women include:

  1. Quitting smoking
  2. Regular exercises to stay active
  3. Maintaining a healthy weight
  4. Following a healthy diet
  5. Keeping blood sugar under control
  6. Keeping blood pressure under control
  7. Lowering cholesterol levels

QUESTION

In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 7/4/2020
References
References:

Women: Don’t Ignore These 3 Subtle Heart Attack Symptoms. Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/women-dont-ignore-3-subtle-heart-attack-symptoms/

Women, Take Your Heart Attack Symptoms Seriously. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/women/features/women-heart-attack-symptoms#1

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack/heart-attack-symptoms-in-women

6 Symptoms of Women's Heart Attacks. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/womens-heart-attack-symptoms#1

What is a Silent Heart Attack? Available at: https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts/silent-heart-attack-symptoms-risks

Causes and Prevention of Heart Disease. Available at: https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts/causes-and-prevention-of-heart-disease

Menopause and Heart Disease. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/menopause-and-heart-disease

Heart attack and stroke: Men vs. women. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/heart-attack-and-stroke-men-vs-women

Cole CS, McSweeney JC, Cleves MA, Armbya N, Bliwise DL, Pettey CM. Sleep disturbance in women before myocardial infarction. Heart Lung. 2012;41(5):438-445. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3432660
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