A lot of people think that women do not get heart disease. More women die from heart disease than from anything else. Any woman can get heart disease.
When you think about heart disease, you probably think about chest pain. Women might not have chest pain. If they do, they might call it an achy, tight or “heavy” feeling instead of pain. The pain might even be in the back between the shoulder blades, instead of the chest.
Women might think these signs are no big deal because they don’t “sound” like a heart attack. Don’t ignore these signs. Go to your doctor of clinic right away.
There are about 500,000 heart attack deaths in the U.S. each year. At least 250,000 people die before they even get to the hospital. Many of these deaths could be prevented by acting quickly and by getting treatment right away, especially within the first hour of having chest pain
Women account for nearly half of all heart attack deaths. Between the ages of 40 and 60, as many women die of heart disease as breast cancer. Over a lifetime, heart disease kills five times as many women as breast cancer. Heart disease is our nation’s number one killer.
Newer blood tests are being used to diagnose a heart attack more quickly and accurately. Getting treatment quickly –at the first sign of distress –is critical for lifesaving medicines and treatments to work.
Place a checkmark next to the heart disease risk factors that apply to you
- Smoking or daily exposure to second-hand smoke (at home or at work)
- Past heart attack or known coronary artery disease
- Family history
- Elevated lipids (over 240 mg/dL. or HDL less than 35 mg/dL)
- Abnormal heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Birth control pills (in combination with smoking)
- Overweight (by 20 or more pounds)
- Post-menopausal (and without estrogen replacement therapy)
- Sedentary lifestyle
A Heart Attack may cause some or all of these symptoms:
- Pain, pressure, fullness, discomfort or squeezing in the center of the chest
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Stabbing chest pain
- Radiating pain to shoulder(s), neck, back, arm(s) or jaw
- Pounding heartbeats (palpitations) or feeling extra heartbeats
- Upper abdominal pain
- Nausea, vomiting or severe indigestion
- Sweating for no apparent reason
- Dizziness with weakness
- Sudden extreme fatigue
- Panic with feeling of impending doom
A note about women’s milder symptoms – About a third of women experience no chest pain at all when having a heart attack and 71% of women report flu-like symptoms for two weeks to a month prior to having more acute chest discomfort or severe shortness of breath. These milder symptoms are under-reported to emergency room staff.
What are the signs and symptoms of heart disease in women?
The most important sign is feeling really tired – even if after enough sleep. Other signs of heart disease in women are:
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling sick to the stomach
- Feeling scared or nervous
- New or worse headaches
- An ache in the chest
- Feeling “heavy” or “tight” in the chest
- A burning feeling in the chest
- Pain in the back, between the shoulders
- Pain or tightness in the chest that spreads to the jaw, neck, shoulders, ear, or the inside of the arms
- Pain in the belly, above the belly button
Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
- Find out if heart disease runs in your family.
- Visit your doctor or clinic often. Find out if you are at risk.
- Don’t smoke. Stay away from other people who are smoking.
- Get your blood pressure checked often. You might need medicine to keep it at the right level.
- Control your diabetes.
- Get your cholesterol checked often.
- Stay active. Walking every day can lower your chances of a heart attack.
- Eat right and keep a healthy weight.
- Eat less salt.
- If you take birth control pills, don’t smoke.
- Hormones for menopause should not be used to prevent heart attacks.
- Being stressed, angry or sad a lot may add to your risk of heart attack.
If you’ve had a heart attack, talk to your doctor about medicine. Some medicines can help cut down the risk of having another heart attack.
High Blood Pressure
- High blood pressure adds to the chance of having heart disease.
- High blood pressure is called the “silent killer”. Most people who have it do not feel sick and don’t know that they have it.
- Have your blood pressure checked each time you go to the doctor or clinic.
In the hospital emergency room
The doctor will order an electrocardiogram (EKG) and blood work to see if you have had a heart attack. Even if your EKG is normal, more testing is necessary. A number of new tests make it possible to diagnose a heart attack more quickly and accurately than ever before.
Emergency room doctors have been trained to diagnose heart attacks quickly and to start treatments rapidly to prevent damage to your heart muscle.
The emergency room doctor may feel that you are not in any danger and that you may go home, but, if you are uncomfortable with this decision, ask for an opinion from a cardiologist before being released and insist on being admitted into the hospital overnight for observation.
Be Clear, Objective and Persistent when describing symptoms and insist on the best care for your heart.