Why single out heart attacks in women?
Dealing with the societal “requirements” and to “keep up with the Jones,” all of the women in my life hardly have time to themselves. When they do get time to relax, 9 times of 10 they are already exhausted and feel fatigued. Heart disease is the predominate killer of women in the United States and deserves our full attention. Heart attacks in women, or a myocardial infarction, tend to have some different signs and symptoms than in men.
What signs and symptoms occur with heart attacks in women?
Heart attacks in women tend to vary widely from woman to woman. The most common symptom remains chest pain or pressure. Chest pain during heart attacks in women tends to be less “crushing” than in men. Other, less “pronounced” signs and symptoms may occur during heart attacks in women, including:
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- New or quick onset shortness of breath, especially without exertion
- Fatigue or generalized malaise
- Pain into the back, arms or jaw
- Diaphoresis, or “breaking out in a sweat”
Anecdotally, approximately 90% of the female patients whom I have cared for who were experiencing an active heart attack, only had a chief complaint of fatigue or shortness of breath. Many of those same patients attributed their symptoms to their daily stressors and thought they were just “tired.”
What should I do for someone who may be experiencing the signs or symptoms of heart attacks in women?
First and foremost, remain calm. Heart attacks in women, as like men, are scary. Lessening this anxiety will also help reduce the demand on the heart. When the myocardium, or heart muscle, demands more oxygen than is available, further injury can occur. This demand can escalate with anxiety and the enzymes produced naturally under stress. As with any other medical emergency, 911 or your local emergency medical service should be activated.
Natural hormonal changes as women age can mask or cloud the signs of a heart attack. When I interview a patient, their “gut” or instinctive feeling is generally fairly correct. Taking this interview and other clinical signs and symptoms can help put the pieces of the puzzle together. It is important to openly communicate with your healthcare practitioners to allow them to form the best treatment plan. The definitive diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks in women can move rapidly and should not be delayed.
How are heart attacks in women diagnosed?
Like in men, heart attacks in women are diagnosed in the same manner. Generally, someone who has the signs and symptoms of heart attacks in women leads us as practitioners to look for the clinical signs of an active heart attack. An EKG, or electrocardiogram, is a quick non-invasive test that can show if an active heart attack is occurring. Should this EKG show a “STEMI,” further care would quickly be put into motion. Many emergency medical services have the ability to obtain and forward EKG’s for earlier activation of definitive care. Other tests for heart attacks in women may include blood chemistry and an echocardiogram.
Heart attacks in women – what next?
As with all of us, prevention and proactivity are the key to good health. Following your doctor’s advice and instructions will help keep you healthy. Learn about your risk factors for cardiac disease and how to manage them. Above all, keep an open line of conversation with your physicians. This helps to allow them to form the best treatment plans. Following physician recommendations can help prevent or lessen the effects of heart attacks in women.