Many people are not aware that women may experience different symptoms of heart attack than that of men. No, they may not present with excruciating chest pain that radiates to the left shoulder that causes them to collapse shortly. While this is common among men having heart attacks, but a woman who is having a heart attack might not present with any noticeable symptoms. Pain may be mild, other symptoms may be so light that they are not noticed at first. Sometimes these symptoms are unspecific and may be mistaken as other medical conditions. A sensation of heaviness in the chest that mimics indigestion, inexplicable fatigue, dizziness, sudden breaking into a sweat are all the symptoms that should ring the alarm for immediate medical attention, especially with a strong family history or past medical history of heart disease. Failing to recognize the subtle pattern of atypical heart attack means risking the patient’s life.
In fact, recent studies have found that heart attack without pain appears to be more common among young women than in younger men, but the difference between two genders diminished with increasing age. Besides that, the researchers also noticed a trend for higher death rates among young women who presented without chest pain compared with younger men who presented without chest pain. The results from these studies help to raise awareness among general population that although chest pain is perceived as the epitome of heart attack, this is not always the case. However, it is still not possible yet to explain from the studies why some women don’t experience chest pain.
Since the symptoms might not be noticeable, it is difficult for a doctor to tell if a female patient is having a heart attack. If a female patient comes in presenting with fatigue or shortness of breath, the doctor may suspect that she is having a heart attack. The diagnosis can be investigated by using electrocardiogram (ECG), which is a test that charts the electrical activity of the heart. Then it can be confirmed by detecting chemical enzymes responsible for heart attack circulating in the blood. Once heart attack has been diagnosed, it is necessary to treat it before any further episode reoccurs.
So are there any differences in how female heart attacks are managed?
Like any other heart attacks, it is crucial to seek for immediate medical help if you suspect a person is having a heart attack. Call for an ambulance instead of contacting your family physician, because heart attack is an emergency situation that requires special medical equipments that are not usually available in a family clinic. In the hospital, doctors will usually prescribe aspirin to prevent blood clot in the heart arteries, since heart attacks are caused by clot formation in the heart arteries. In severe cases, surgical procedures such as inserting a stent to unblock the artery or artery bypass surgery will be required to ameliorate the condition.
Here are some fun facts concerning women and heart disease:
- Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined.
- While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.
- Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.
- Only 1 in 5 American women believe that heart disease is her greatest health threat
- An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease.
- Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
- Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease.
- The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women and men, and are often misunderstood.