According to the American Heart Association, a woman dies from heart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease (CVD) every minute in the United States. And, more than one in three women is living with CVD.
While heart disease death rates among men have declined steadily over the last 25 years, rates among women have fallen at a slower rate. Why? The research is still debated, but many say because women often tend to ignore warning signs until it’s too late. For men, who typically suffer suffocating chest pains – women suffer far more subtle symptoms that are often ignored.
So let’s review. Here are 11 heart attack red flags for women:
- BREATHING DIFFICULTIES: Shortness of breath is a common and very frightening precursor to a heart attack if you’re a woman. It may come on suddenly and without warning. Imagine gasping for air like you’ve just run a flight of stairs even though you’re sitting stationary.
- HEAVY PERSPIRATION: Stress can bring on a cold, clammy sweat. However, many women suffering a heart attack start perspiring without any stressors present. The problem is many women mistake this as a hot flash or blame it on their menstrual cycle.
- DISRUPTED SLEEP: Women who have suffered a heart attack often recall waking up in the middle of a deep sleep unable to catch their breath. This form of sleep apnea can occur during a heart attack, compressing the upper airway and robbing the heart of essential blood flow.
- EXHAUSTION: Women often experience exhaustion burning the candle at both ends – taking care of everyone else, but themselves. Heart attacks are sneaky here … zapping women of energy, even when they’ve been getting adequate sleep and eating right.
- STOMACH CRAMPS: Abdominal pain? Yep. What women might brush off as heartburn or a nasty intestinal bug may actually be a more sinister heart issue.
- SHARP UPPER BODY PAIN: While men feel what they describe as “the weight of an elephant” on their chests, women are different. Heart attacks in women often cause sharp pains in the upper body. It’s common for women to complain of sharp, shooting pain – or dull, gradual, mounting pain in the neck, upper arms or jaw. The pain can be so sharp that it rouses a woman from slumber.
- JAW PAIN: Although rare, a red flag for heart attack is a sore jaw. This is because when there is a problem with the heart, the nerves in that general area react – explaining why we feel pain in other areas other than the direct area (both men and women). But because the jaw is not located in the chest, it can be an overlooked symptom for heart-related problems.
- RAPID HEART RATE: Anxiety and/or stress can cause a rushing heart rate. But during a non-stressful endeavor, and striking suddenly (or regularly); it’s best to see a doctor to see if there are underlying issues related to your heart.
- CHEST PAIN: While the crushing chest pain men suffer during a heart attack is less intense for women, chest pain can still occur leading up to and during an attack for women. Women tend to describe the pain as a tight discomfort across their entire chest and not solely on the left side of the chest.
- NAUSEA: This symptom happens for numerous reasons. However, researchers have determined that nausea can occur a few days before having a heart attack.
- PAIN IN EITHER ARM: Many have been told – or heard – sharp pain in the left arm is a potential symptom of heart attack. For women, this sharp pain can occur in either arm. So, if you’re a woman and especially if you’re at risk for heart disease and have other heart attack symptoms, be sure to see a doctor immediately if you feel sharp pain in either arm.
Heart disease – for both men and women – is the silent killer. The above “red flags” are meant as guidelines only. Above all, they’re not meant to make you a worrier. People get nauseated, exhausted, etc. But if you are at high risk for heart disease – and especially if you’ve already suffered a heart attack, be sure to pay attention.
Everyone needs to pay attention to their bodies. Don’t ignore things that “just don’t seem right.” Your best bet is always to see your doctor when in doubt. Have regular checkups so you know your baseline for your individual good health. And by all means – never ignore serious signs for the sake of pride. When in doubt, always give your doctor a shout!