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Impending heart attack in women are not always about chest pain. Since we are used to this scenario in the movies or on TV, we think of it as the only sign of serious heart disease. However, there are many more signs of heart attack, which most people are unaware of. Also, more importantly, when compared to men, women face different symptoms of a serious heart condition.
So why do women not think of “heart disease” when these symptoms happen? First, most of us simply don’t know. Because no one told us these symptoms could be precursors to a heart attack.
In a study involving 515 women aged 29 to 97 years (average of 66), researchers interviewed them after they were discharged from hospital post a heart attack. These women were asked to identify the signs and symptoms they felt in the month before the heart attack. Here’s what they picked from a list of 70 signs and symptoms.
More than 70% of women in the survey experienced unusual fatigue that felt like “having a flu”. Fatigue is common with women as they age. But if you are fatigued even if you aren’t exerting yourself, you should pay attention to these signs. How is fatigue connected to a heart attack? When your heart isn’t pumping enough blood, your cells don’t get enough oxygen to burn fuel and generate energy.
A weak heart decreases levels of circulating oxygen in the body, which may lead to insomnia or unexplained awakenings in the night. If sleep disturbances have no apparent reason, like work-related stress or acid reflux, then they could be related to heart troubles.
Shortness of breath is common as women age. Lack of physical exercise and weight gain may sometimes result in shortness of breath due to exertion. But sudden sweating and shortness of breath without any exertion can be a sign of heart trouble. If you have heart trouble, your breathlessness will worsen over time with exertion. You could also experience breathlessness that worsens when you are lying down, but improves as soon as you sit or stand.
A dull or sharp pain in the stomach may also be a sign of an impending heart attack. Angina pain due to arterial blockage isn’t just experienced in the chest. Sometimes, pain signals travel to the abdomen and manifests as stomachache. Poor blood circulation can also lead to symptoms of indigestion like nausea and vomiting.
Anxiety attacks, especially a feeling of dread or doom at night, can be clues to an unknown heart problem. If feelings of anxiety aren’t related to any recent events or any other emotional triggers, they may signal a coronary heart disease. Such bouts of anxiety are also due to improper distribution of oxygen in the body, especially to the brain.
In fact, less than a third of women experienced the symptom we all associate with a heart attack – chest pain – in the month before they have a heart attack.
Second, if you go over the list again, you will realize that a lot of these appear as routine and harmless symptoms. Most women tend to take these symptoms in their stride and carry on with life. While this may be a common response, if these symptoms persist, we need to take them seriously and ensure they are not signs of a more serious condition.
In particular, women with certain risk factors should take the above symptoms more seriously than others.
In a nutshell, all women need to be aware of these signs and risk factors. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, seek medical help and save yourself from serious health complications.
National Institutes of Health:
The Women’s Heart Foundation:
Journal of the American Heart Association