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Don't ignore the warning signs: 8 heart attack symptoms women might miss

Don't ignore the warning signs: 8 heart attack symptoms women might miss

  • Updated
Senior woman with chest pain suffering from heart attack during jogging

Pressure or discomfort in the chest can be a sign of a heart attack in men and women. But for women, there often will be other red flags in the weeks leading up to a serious episode requiring immediate medical attention.

In the amount of time it takes you to read this article, another woman will die of heart disease.

It’s the No. 1 killer of women. In fact, heart disease is responsible for one in three women’s deaths each year – approximately one woman dies from it each minute. It’s more deadly than all forms of cancer combined, including breast cancer.

So why do women often ignore the warning signs?

So many of the patients I end up seeing at Methodist Physicians Clinic Heart Care Center in Council Bluffs mistake signs of a heart attack for the flu or simply not feeling well. Women may not recognize the less common symptoms of a heart attack. These can include vague symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, sometimes hot and cold flashes, or just not feeling right.

Many times a woman’s symptoms can be similar to that of a man’s. For men and women, the No. 1 heart attack symptom is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But in the weeks prior to a heart attack, women are more likely to also experience the more atypical signs of a heart attack.

What should you watch for?

Here are eight of the most common symptoms women can’t afford to ignore.

1. Chest pain or discomfort. Just like in men, chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom for women, but it may feel a bit different. It can be described as a fullness, burning or squeezing, and it may not be on the left side. It can be in the upper chest, on the right side or in the upper abdomen.

2. Pain in your arms, back, neck or jaw. The pain can be gradual or sudden, and it may come and go before becoming more intense. A woman may also experience a “heavy” sensation or tingling in her arms and/or legs.

3. Stomach pain or “heartburn.” Many mistake this pain as heartburn, the flu or a stomach ulcer.

4. Shortness of breath or lightheadedness. Having trouble breathing for no apparent reason may be a sign of a heart attack, especially if one or more of the other symptoms are present.

5. Nausea or vomiting. Experiencing either or both can be a sign that a heart attack is imminent.

6. Sweating. It’s common for a woman having a heart attack to break out in a nervous, cold sweat. It will feel more like stress-related sweating than what you experience while exercising or being too hot.

7. Extreme fatigue. Many women who have heart attacks feel extremely tired even if they haven’t been active.

8. Anxiety. If any of the above symptoms make you feel anxious, or that something is just not right, seek medical attention.

Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms. Bottom line: If you have chest discomfort, especially if it includes any of these other signs, call 911 immediately.

Listen to what your body is telling you. Don’t ignore it.

Remember, primary prevention is key to stopping a heart attack before it strikes. Review your risk of heart attack and stroke with your doctor. Have your blood sugar and cholesterol checked, know your body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure, and discuss your goals for those numbers with your doctor.

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