Women Should Know Cardiac Warning Signs

Heart Attack Symptoms Are Often Different for Women than they Are for Men

by Brianna Wilson, age 18

For years, we have learned about the signs and symptoms of heart attacks. Heart disease is the number one killer and cause of disability in the United States, but it is also preventable.

Adjusting your lifestyle by eating healthier and exercising more is the key to prevention. Another piece to the puzzle is being able to identify cardiac emergencies accurately and early. But what if the signs and symptoms you observe are the wrong ones?

Recently, the health care field has been calling attention to key gender differences concerning the signs and symptoms of cardiac emergencies. Research suggests that men and women may experience substantially different symptoms prior to having a heart attack.    

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Some individuals may experience sudden intense symptoms, but the majority of heart attack victims have mild yet persistent signs. These include vomiting, nausea, diaphoresis, and shortness of breath.

Individuals often experience stiffening chest pain that radiates through their left arm. But women may not experience these warning signs.

Research shows that women may not experience the “cardinal symptoms” that men often do. Many women experience profuse sweating or tremendous fatigue without explanation. Also common is discomfort in their upper body (particularly in the neck), jaw, stomach, or arms. Many women have a sense that their heart is beating rapidly and experience a fluttery sensation. It is problematic that many of these symptoms are common and explicable by other medical conditions.

While some individuals experience a sense of “impending doom,” they are often reluctant to seek medical help because they are embarrassed that they may be having a heart attack.

A crucial piece in preventing cardiac events is educating women about these under-recognized symptoms. The sooner cardiac emergencies are identified, the better chance victims have to survive heart attacks.

[Sources: American Heart Association; http://women.webmd.com/features/; http://www.nhlbi.hih.gov/actintime/haws/women.htm; Center for Disease Control]