Heart disease, including stroke, is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Chances are you know someone who has had a stroke or heart attack. But did you know that heart disease in America is the number one killer of women over the age of twenty? That statistic translates to one death every minute.
Men have traditional risk factors – such as high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes – but women seem to have a sex-specific family history tied to their risk of having a heart attack. And according to a new Oxford vascular study, a woman who has a mother who had a stroke has a higher risk of having a heart attack as well as a stroke. Using reliable tools to predict heart attack risk is critical because women are more likely to die from a heart attack than men.
If you’re a woman, you should know…
Heart attacks in women don’t often present like those in men. Some doctors realize the difference and may recognize a feeling of indigestion and extreme fatigue as “female heart attack symptoms”, but some still don’t.
Heart attack symptoms aren’t as predictable in women as they are in men. For example, a Circulation study showed that 43% of women don’t experience acute chest pain at all during a cardiac event which is a hallmark sign in men. (See symptom results below.) Consequently, women (especially if under the age of 55) are more likely to be misdiagnosed and discharged from the hospital.
Major symptoms in women more than one month prior to a heart attack:
- Unusual fatigue (70.7%) that may even feel like the onset of the flu
- Sleep disturbance (47.8%)
- Shortness of breath (42.1%)
- Chest discomfort (29.7%) and many experienced NO chest pain
Major symptoms in women during a heart attack:
- Shortness of breath (57.9%)
- Weakness (54.8%)
- Cold sweat
- Lower chest discomfort
- Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort that feels like indigestion
- Back pain
Fit Tip: Listen to your body. Don’t dismiss symptoms as something minor or try to ‘tough it out’. Be assertive and persistent. Remember, many doctors still don’t recognize female heart attack symptoms. In the ER, tell the triage nurse you need to be seen by a cardiologist. Know the symptoms, know your risk factors, and pass this on to women you know.