Heart Disease is the #1 Killer of U.S. Women. It’s important to know women’s heart attack symptoms. Our symptoms are atypical for men, but typical for women. Men have problems in the large arteries. Women have trouble in the small arteries. Microvascular Disease kills more women than all cancers combined.
For decades, the research on heart disease has been conducted on men. So, if we present our symptoms like a man, we’ll likely get properly diagnosed and treated. If we present our symptoms like a woman, they could get misdiagnosed or not taken seriously — and we get sent home with the “stress” diagnosis. If we are concerned about our heart related symptoms, it is recommended that we lie and say we’re having severe chest pain and left arm pain. (Strange but true.)
We had this experience recently in our family. Even though the Urgent Care that sent us to the Emergency Room suspected a “mini stroke,” the hospital sent us home saying, “All test results are normal, so we don’t know what caused the symptoms. We have to call it stress.” We did not know to ask for a Cardiac Enzyme test (see below), so we still don’t know what really caused the heart attack and stroke symptoms.
Among U.S. women with heart disease, 42% die within a year of having a heart attack, compared with 24% of men. This is why it is so important to know what really happened when you end up in the ER with chest pain or any of the other symptoms of heart disease. Women are 7 times more likely to be sent home than males with “normal” test results. So, know your statistics, risk factors, symptoms and what to do when you arrive at the Emergency Room. Here are some tips.
Women and Heart Disease Statistics:
– Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death for U.S. women.
– Classic heart attack symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath, and then the heart attack. Women have these symptoms less than 1/2 the time.
– 2 out of 3 American women have at least one risk factor for heart disease.
– 1 out of 2 American women will develop heart and vascular disease in their lifetime.
– 12 times as many women die of heart disease every year as die from breast cancer.
– 455,000 American women die of heart disease every year, compared to 410,000 men.
– 42% of U.S. women die within a year of having a heart attack, compared with 24 percent of men.
– 1/4 to 1/2 of women with heart disease experience different symptoms than men typically do. For example, many women experience extreme fatigue and nausea, while men report a tingling feeling in their left arm.
– Family history of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke
– Irregular periods
– Polycystic ovary syndrome
– Low estrogen levels
– Pregnancy complications
– Migraine headaches
– Autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Thyroiditis, or High Thyroid Antibodies or high Autoimmune Antibodies (these antibodies can attack the heart).
- Pain, squeezing, fullness, tightness or discomfort anywhere in the chest area. Chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom, but we may experience it differently than men do. It may feel like a squeezing or fullness, and the pain can be anywhere in the chest area — not just on the left side. It’s usually truly uncomfortable during a heart attack and can feel like a vise being tightened.
- Pain or discomfort in arms, back, neck, or jaw. Pain in the back or jaw or anywhere above the waist is more common in women than in men, and it may be confusing because we expect it to be in our left arm, like men. This pain can be gradual or sudden, and it may wax and wane before becoming intense. It may wake you up if you are asleep. You should report any “non-typical or unexplained” symptoms in any part of your body to your doctor or other health care provider.
- Shortness of breath. If you are having trouble breathing for no apparent reason, you may be having a heart attack — especially if you are having one or more of the other symptoms too. You may have done nothing extraordinary, but feel like you just ran a marathon!
- Severe abdominal pressure or pain. Sometimes we mistake stomach pain that signals a heart attack for heartburn, the flu, or a stomach ulcer. Or, a heart attack can be signaled when you experience severe abdominal pressure that feels like an elephant sitting on your stomach.
- Nausea, vomiting, indigestion, dizziness or lightheadedness may accompany any of these symptoms.
- Sweating, nervous or cold sweats. Breaking out in a nervous, or cold sweat is common among women who are having a heart attack. Your sweat will feel more like stress-related sweating than perspiration from exercising or spending time outside in the sun. If you don’t typically sweat like that and there is no other reason for it, such as heat or hot flashes, get it checked out!
- Fatigue, or tiredness in the chest area. Some women who have heart attacks feel extremely tired, or complain of a tiredness in the chest, even if they’ve been sitting still for a while or haven’t moved much. You may not be able to do simple activities, like walk to the bathroom.Not every woman gets all of these symptoms. If you have chest discomfort, especially if you also have one or more of the other signs, call 911 immediately.
- Call 911 Immediately & Get to the Hospital Emergency Room
- Chew a regular Aspirin (not all women should take Aspirin daily)
- At the Hospital Emergency Room, look like a man having a heart attack! Say, “I am having a Heart Attack! I have severe chest and left arm pain.”
- Demand an EKG, and a Cardiac Enzyme Test more than 2 to 6 hours after symptoms occur, and again in 12 to 15 hours when levels peak to determine if there has been damage to the heart muscle. Cardiac Troponin I and Troponin T enzyme levels are normally so low they cannot be detected with most blood tests, so when they are detected it’s usually significant in showing that a heart attack has indeed occurred. The more damage there is to the heart, the greater the amount of troponin I and T there will be in the blood. Troponin I is thought to be a far more specific marker of cardiac damage than troponin T. Cardiac troponin T levels rise 2-6 hours after the heart attack and remain elevated. Both proteins return to the normal range about seven days after a heart attack.
- MRI — not radiation for any testing to protect women’s hearts and breasts.
“Women around the world are dying in alarming numbers from an epidemic of heart disease. We can no longer afford the misconception that heart disease is mostly a man’s problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. The need for more research into women’s heart disease is urgent. Women need – and deserve – heart care specific to female hearts.” Barbara Streisand
Barbara Streisand’s support, advocacy, and philanthropic commitment have resulted in the newly announced Cedars-Sinai Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in Los Angeles.
Tips to Prevent Women’s Heart Disease: (80% can be prevented)
– Eat a Mediterranean Style Diet – replace meat with nuts, beans and fish – these are healthy fats
– Eat fruits and vegetables abundantly
– Eat more complex carbohydrates
– Don’t Smoke
– Exercise 30 minutes daily
– Maintain a healthy weight
We hope this information helps you and your family. Everything is back to normal for us now, and we are more educated than before. It was a very scary time. We still don’t know the cause of the symptoms our family member had. We don’t have heart disease in our herstory. But, for now, until women’s heart disease has been researched and physicians and hospitals have been educated, we know to act like a man when our heart depends on it!