Heart Attack Warning Signs In Women

February 12, 2023

When most individuals - both men and women - think of a heart attack, they tend to think of shooting pain in the chest that causes a person to clutch their chest and fall to the floor. While this does indicate a heart attack, it is more common to see this type in men. The signs of a heart attack present themselves differently in women. Furthermore, because not many understand that the symptoms are different, women are more likely to suffer permanent damage or death from a heart attack than men. Women are also less likely to see treatment than men for a variety of reasons, including taking care of others instead or downplaying the symptoms. Thus, it is critical to understand the warning signs of a heart attack in women.

Discomfort In The Chest

Yes, women can also experience chest pain as a sign of a heart attack. However, chest pain may also appear as chest discomfort in women, as it may not be sharp pain and may feel like an uncomfortable amount of pressure, squeezing, or a feeling of fullness in the center of the chest. The chest discomfort will either last for longer than a few minutes or go away and return relatively quickly (e.g., brief discomfort one day followed by further discomfort a month later is not a heart attack). Women should also note their chest discomfort can be mild and may not be sudden.

Pain In Jaw, Neck, Arm, Or Back

Pain is the body's way of telling you something is wrong. When it comes to pain indicating a heart attack for women, it is important to note a problem with the heart may trigger nerves in the immediate area, but the pain may be felt elsewhere. Specifically, pain in the jaw, neck, arms, or back may signal a heart attack, especially if it is hard to determine the specific origin, such as if no particular muscle is aching. Other signs that indicate a heart attack include sudden pain not caused by exertion, especially if it causes women to wake up at night, and pain specific to the lower left side of the jaw. Women should also note they can experience pain in either arm, not just the left like most men. Finally, lower or upper back pain often starts in the chest and spreads to these areas, so be aware of this.

Unusual Fatigue

Many women have busy lives, including juggling a career, taking care of their family members, keeping the house clean, and many other activities; a busy life often means being tired quite a lot. Fatigue like this, for both genders, is likely normal. However, women should watch for new or significant fatigue, as it might be an indicator of a heart attack. Specific elements related to fatigue women should pay attention to include being suddenly and unusually worn out after their typical workout routine, and they experience fatigue or a ‘heavy' feeling in the chest without exertion. Also, simple tasks, such as walking to the bathroom, that causes extreme fatigue and experiencing sleep disturbance in spite of fatigue.

Sweating And Shortness Of Breath

Shortness of breath can sometimes be the result of gradual weight gain as well as a lack of exercise. Hot flashes often mean sweating and are quite common when women go through menopause. However, both sweating and shortness of breath can be warnings of a heart attack for women when they occur in specific situations. These situations include sudden shortness of breath or sweating without physical exertion, a cold, clammy sweat when there is no discernable reason for stress, and shortness of breath worsening over time after exertion. Shortness of breath may be a sign of a heart attack in women if it is worse when lying down and alleviates when sitting up. Finally, shortness of breath and sweating accompanied by chest discomfort and fatigue is also a cause for concern.

Experiencing Lightheadedness

Feeling lightheaded or dizzy could be a signal of low blood pressure or the need to eat at least a little food. However, if there is no discernible cause of lightheadedness, particularly when it is accompanied by other symptoms such as a cold sweat and shortness of breath, it could be an indicator that the heart is not getting enough blood and may trigger a heart attack. Thus, it is essential to pay close attention to lightheadedness, particularly in a scenario like this.

Indigestion And Stomach Pains

Indigestion and stomach pains can mean many things, such as eating a little too much during a meal or some food not agreeing with the individual's stomach. Indigestion and heartburn caused by a meal typically occur immediately following the meal and will usually alleviate after taking an antacid or burping. Any discomfort or pain, when it is the result of the meal, does not normally spread to the arms, shoulders, or neck. Additionally, if indigestion or pain is accompanied by other previously discussed warning signs (e.g., cold sweat or lightheadedness), or there is significant pressure on the stomach, it could indicate an impending heart attack. If these indicators accompany indigestion then, seek medical attention as soon as possible. It is better to be safe than sorry!

Nausea And Vomiting

Women who have experienced a heart attack often report they felt significant nausea as well as vomiting. Of course, nausea and vomiting could indicate many things, such as food poisoning or the flu, and may not be a heart attack. One of the keys to determining if these symptoms could be indicating a heart attack is the presence of other symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, and a cold sweat. There should also be no other discernible cause of nausea or vomiting. If both of these apply, seek medical attention quickly as it could likely be a heart attack.

Numbness in Hands or Feet

A lot of individuals may experience tingling or numbness in their hands or feet at some point in their lives. Many are familiar with the feeling of the feet or hands 'falling asleep,' especially after the limb has been in one position for a long time. However, numbness may also be a serious sign of a heart attack, particularly in women. Aching and tingling can be considered an early warning sign of peripheral artery disease, which is a disease of the circulatory system that narrows the blood vessels. This causes poor circulation, which can then lead to tingling and numbness. Peripheral artery disease often leads to heart attacks and strokes because narrower blood vessels are more easily blocked by arterial plaque buildup. In addition, numbness in the limbs might be a sign of a stroke, especially if it happens on one side of the body.

Persistent Barking Cough

Many individuals expect a persistent cough to be a problem with the lungs or airway. But for women, a persistent barking cough could be an important sign of heart failure. In some cases where women are already being treated for heart failure, coughing can be a sign the treatment isn't working or is causing complications. Heart failure isn't the same thing as a heart attack, but it can lead to one or even result in complete cardiac arrest if it's not treated properly. To experience heart failure, a patient's heart must have become impaired until the organ can't keep up with their body's demands and causes complications such as a heart attack.

Anxiety Or Restlessness

Anxiety is often a sign of a chemical imbalance in the brain that manifests as a mental health condition. However, anxiety or restlessness can also be a sign of cardiac disease. In addition, there is some research indicating anxiety can have a negative effect on the cardiovascular system. When individuals experience anxiety, the body's reaction can cause a negative strain on the heart. Anxiety might be associated with tachycardia, a condition that causes the heart to beat rapidly. Not all instances of tachycardia are problems, but serious cases might increase the chances of a woman experiencing a sudden heart attack. Anxiety might also cause a patient's blood pressure to increase. A chronic increase in blood pressure can cause the heart muscle to weaken and lead to coronary disease. In addition, anxiety has been associated with a decrease in the variability of the heart rate, which might increase the risk of death following a heart attack.

Frequent Insomnia

Insomnia can be a sign of heart failure, which can lead to a heart attack. In fact, nearly seventy-five percent of those with heart failure, including women, report they experience frequent insomnia. As such, it's among the most common heart failure symptoms. Insomnia occurs when an individual has trouble falling or staying asleep. They might also wake up too early. In some cases, patients with insomnia experience all three of these things. This leads to sleep deprivation, which not only causes cognitive impairment during the day, but can also take a toll on the body's overall health. Insomnia has been shown to increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. One study showed patients who have difficulty falling asleep are at 1.27 times more of a risk than the rest of the population. Individuals with difficulty maintaining sleep had 1.11 times the risk, and those with non-restorative sleep had 1.18 the times risk.

Pay Attention When Symptoms Are Unusual Or Sudden

Women should pay attention when symptoms they experience are unusual or sudden. Sometimes women have severe heart valve problems, but they don't recognize their symptoms until after they have significant heart damage. It's important to be aware of symptoms indicating heart disease or other heart attack risk factors, especially if there is a history of heart disease in the family.

When these symptoms have no other discernible cause and women experience more than one of them, it is critical to seek medical attention as quickly as possible and to be a strong advocate while getting medical attention. Remember, women are more likely to experience quieter symptoms of a heart attack than men.

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