Written by Shadi Salehyar
February is American Heart Month, a month dedicated to maintaining cardiovascular health and spreading awareness about common heart related issues, such as heart attacks.
People tend to think of heart attacks as a male issue, but in reality, heart attacks are the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. What most people don’t know is that the symptoms of a heart attack can differ between women and men. Women are more likely to experience more subtle symptoms that don’t fit into the basic criteria recognized for heart attacks. This makes it difficult to identify heart attacks when they happen to women. In order to help combat this confusion, we’ve put together a list of symptoms women may exhibit when experiencing a heart attack.
Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdomen discomfort
Sharp chest pains as well as jaw, neck and back pains are heart attack symptoms that both men and women experience. However, women often report that their heart attack pain feels more like pressure or tightness. It is also possible to have a heart attack and not experience chest pain at all. Even if the pain doesn’t feel severe, it’s important to take any aches and discomforts seriously. This isn’t to say that any small amount of discomfort is a cause for panic, but if it’s accompanied by any more of the following symptoms, it definitely should not go ignored.
Excessive sweating, especially at night, is a symptom that is especially common in women. If you’re sweating more than usual with no increased physical activity or waking up in a pool of sweat, this could be a sign that you’re experiencing a heart attack. Pumping blood through clogged arteries takes more effort, so your body produces more sweat to keep your body temperature down. Sweating could be a sign of other issues such as menopause, but if you’re sweating so much that it’s keeping you up at night, the issue may be more serious than you thought.
Lightheadedness and Shortness of Breath
Men may experience dizziness or shortness of breath when having a heart attack, but it’s more common in women. In some instances, your lightheadedness may even cause you to faint. Shortness of breath can occur without the more commonly recognized chest pain, if accompanied by other symptoms, it could be a sign that you’re having a heart attack.
Another symptom that many people don’t consider could be linked to a heart attack is extreme levels of fatigue. The fatigue one experiences in relation to a heart attack is chronic and extremely debilitating. It could stop you from performing your daily tasks. Since fatigue has causes, it’s easy to dismiss it and blame it on something else. No one can ever fathom that something dangerous could be happening to them until it’s happened. Of course, experiencing fatigue on its own doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a heart attack, but if it’s persistent or coupled with any of the other symptoms on this list, you should seek immediate treatment.
If you or a loved one are ever experiencing a heart attack, call 911 immediately and get help as fast as possible. The person having a heart attack should never drive themself to the hospital or emergency room unless there is no other choice. It’s also important to try and remain as calm as possible, take deep breaths and try not to put any further strain on your heart. If you’re looking for ways to stay on top of your cardiovascular health, Families Together offers wellness services including nutrition and fitness education that may be helpful to you! Patients can request an appointment on our website or call 1(800) 597-7977 ext. 507 for more information.