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Know the signs: Heart attack symptoms in women
Posted: March 10, 2022
Since 1924, the American Heart Association has been fighting heart disease and stroke and helping people to live longer, healthier lives. Our local AHA shares ways that you can stay healthy, get involved and help raise awareness right here in NEPA.
Women Don't Always Have the Traditional Symptoms of Heart Disease
Heart disease has historically been known as a man’s disease, but what most may not know is that it is the number one killer of women. March is Women’s History Month, and while treatments and awareness have come a long way, heart attacks still may look different for women. Learn the risks and what you can do to keep your heart healthy with tips from Geisinger, a sponsor of American Heart Association.
Geisinger Shares How Heart Attacks Look Different for Women
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is interrupted or cut off completely, depriving the heart of critical oxygen. Heart attacks look different for men and women, and women are less likely to experience traditional symptoms.
The most common symptom of a heart attack is mild or strong pain in the center of the chest. This discomfort may last for several minutes, or it may come and go. But chest pain isn’t the only symptom. In fact, you might not have chest pain at all.
Symptoms: what to look for
Chest pain may not always be present with a heart attack. Women are more likely to have shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness or back or jaw pain.
Other heart attack symptoms in women may include:
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Pain in the neck, shoulders or throat
- Extreme fatigue
- Breaking out into a cold sweat
- Stomach pain
- Feeling lightheaded
Some women do have symptoms, but they’re often so mild that they just don’t recognize them as coming from their heart.
A different kind of heart attack
If you have mild symptoms, they may be caused by a silent heart attack. These heart attacks are less likely to cause symptoms. Often, you may not know you’ve had one until days or even weeks later.
They’re more common in women, particularly women under 65.
To identify whether you’ve had one, your doctor may perform an electrocardiogram, also called an EKG or ECG. This non-invasive test uses small sensors attached to your chest and arms to record your heart’s electrical activity.
If testing does detect a silent heart attack, your doctor may suggest treatments like medication or cardiac rehab.
Heart attack or something else?
Although a heart attack may be the first thing that comes to mind, other common medical conditions can cause similar symptoms.
These conditions can mimic a heart attack:
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Esophageal spasm
- Pulmonary embolism
- Emotional stress
If you’re having symptoms, even minor ones, talk to your doctor or head to the nearest emergency room.
It’s better to get checked and be fine.
Lowering your risk
Staying heart healthy is easier than you might realize.
- Avoid smoking. Need help quitting? Talk to your healthcare provider about a smoking cessation program.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Exercise regularly. Choose a moderate-intensity activity like brisk walking, lifting weights or swimming 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Can’t get to the gym? Look for simple home workouts.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit alcohol use. If you drink, stick to one per day, maximum (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor).
- Manage blood pressure. Having untreated high blood pressure can put you at a higher risk of having a heart attack. Not sure how to keep it under control? Start by talking with your provider.
Your doctor can create a plan to help you manage your blood pressure. And, if needed, they can help you lower your cholesterol.
Making a few lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of having a heart attack and improve your overall health.
Before you embark on any lifestyle changes, talk to your healthcare provider. They can work with you to create a customized plan to provide the specialized care your heart needs.
Join AHA for Go Red for Women
To learn more, visit heart.org/northeastpagored and join American Heart Association on May 12 at the Northeast PA Go Red for Women celebration. Sharon Hinchey, a three-time heart survivor and women’s health advocate, will be sharing her story at the celebration in hopes that women take the opportunity to learn everything they can about heart health so that they can be proactive and make the right choices for their own well-being.