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Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

A lot of symptoms of heart attack in women are different than those in men. Women may have some additional symptoms than just general discomfort and chest pain.
Reshma Jirage
Did You Know?
Women have a higher probability, than men, to suffer from 'silent heart attacks', which do not come with the symptoms of a full-blown myocardial infarction but do similar damage to the heart.

Heart attack symptoms may differ significantly in women and men. Heart attack is one of the main causes of death in women after breast cancer. Over-weight women with high cholesterol levels are at a higher risk. After menopause, due to changes in estrogen levels, women are more vulnerable to heart attacks. Obesity, stress, smoking, diabetes, high levels of LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, inactive lifestyle and family history of coronary disease are some of the risk factors for heart attack in women. Women taking birth control pills are also more vulnerable to this condition.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women
Some major symptoms that a woman may experience prior to heart attack are unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety, indigestion and shortness of breath. Weakness, shortness of breath and unusual fatigue are the three most common symptoms that are seen mostly in women before heart attack. Some of the common symptoms of a heart attack in women are as follows:
  • Pain in neck, lower jaw, shoulder and upper back
  • Unexplained weakness and fatigue
  • Stomach or abdominal pain
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath, not accompanied by chest pain
  • Tightness in chest
  • Feeling of heartburn or indigestion
  • Flu-like symptoms, cold sweats and nausea
  • Loss of appetite, general discomfort and a feeling of anxiety
  • Sense of impending doom

In addition, women more typically experience nausea, lightheadedness and cold sweats. On the other hand, men more often experience severe chest pain as the major symptom of heart attack. The most common symptoms of heart attack, observed in both men and women, are chest pain, discomfort or pressure in the chest, upper body pain, shortness of breath, sweating, anxiety, nausea and vomiting. However, these symptoms are more severe in men than in women.
Silent Heart Attacks in Women
A silent heart attack is brought about by reduced supply of oxygen to the heart over a long period, owing to the gradual development of plaque deposits in the arteries. There may be very mild to no symptoms of this kind of a heart attack, which makes it even more difficult to diagnose and, therefore, more dangerous. Symptom or no symptom, these silent attacks cause similar damage to the cardiac muscles by causing damage to its cells. In absence of treatment, owing to the lack of diagnosis, the weakened organ receives no help to manage its recovery process. This leaves the heart incapable of surviving another attack in the future. People who are most likely to suffer from silent heart attacks are those who have been diagnosed with silent ischemia, have a family history of heart diseases, have crossed the age of 50, have been diagnosed with other heart-unfriendly issues (obesity, high cholesterol, etc.) or, in case of women, have entered menopause.
Understanding the early symptoms of heart attack is helpful for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. It is difficult to diagnose it in women due to somewhat unrelated symptoms. That's why it is possible that heart attacks in women remain neglected and, often, untreated. When women experience any of above-mentioned symptoms, they should immediately seek medical attention. Diagnosis is done on the basis of electrocardiogram (ECG) and some laboratory investigations such as serum troponin levels and determination of cardiac enzymes such as Creatine phosphokinase, Creatine phosphokinase-MB, etc.
The treatment of heart attack focuses on immediately opening the blocked artery and restoring the blood flow to the cardiac muscle. There are various treatment options such as anti-platelet medications, anti-coagulant medications, clot dissolving medication, coronary angiography with percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty, medication to reduce the need for oxygen by the heart muscles, medication to prevent abnormal heart rhythms, and supplemental oxygen.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.