When you think of somebody having a heart attack, it's often a man suddenly clutching his chest in pain and falling to the ground. But heart attacks also affect women – and they can look quite different.
Did you know that cardiovascular disease (heart and blood vessel disease) is the most common cause of death for women? Women often miss the symptoms of a heart attack because they don’t think it could happen to them.
Heart attacks can cause cardiac arrest and sudden death. That’s why it’s important to learn about heart attack, know what your risk factors are and have a heart-healthy life. Read more about heart disease in women.
Watch this amusing yet sobering video of actress Elizabeth Banks portraying a woman having a heart attack, or read on for more information below.
Video: Go Red for Women. Note: In Aotearoa New Zealand in an emergency, call 111 for an ambulance.
Women's heart attack symptoms can differ from men's
Heart attack symptoms in women can be a bit different from those in men. Women tend to ignore the symptoms because they can be quite subtle.
While chest pain is the most common sign of heart attack for both men and women, some women just have a feeling of tightness, pressure or discomfort in their chest. So, if you’re a woman, how do you know if you are having a heart attack?
Image: Go Red for Women
Signs of a heart attack in women
You may have some or all of these symptoms, including symptoms with or without chest discomfort.
1. Pain/tightness in chest
A common symptom is a feeling of tightness, pressure or discomfort in your chest. Chest discomfort is caused by blockages within your main heart arteries. Women also tend to have blockages in the small arteries coming off your heart (known as microvascular coronary disease). For this reason, chest discomfort may not be the worst, or most noticeable, symptom in women.
2. Shortness of breath
You may feel like you can’t breathe properly or you can’t get enough air into your lungs. Some women may even experience difficulty breathing a few weeks before having a heart attack.
3. Nausea/vomiting or sweating
You may feel really queasy or actually vomit. You may also feel sweaty and clammy.
You may feel light-headed, dizzy or not quite ‘with it’.
5. Pain in other parts of your body
You may feel pain or pressure in your jaw, neck, arm, lower or upper back, belly or torso. You may feel like you have indigestion or reflux. Remember pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.
6. Unusual fatigue/weakness
You may suddenly feel very tired or very weak.
|No two heart attacks are the same. Not all these symptoms may occur. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, call 111 immediately. While your symptoms may turn out to be harmless, they may also be the result of a heart attack.|
For more information visit the Heart Foundation NZ website
|Dr Sharon Leitch is a general practitioner and clinical research training fellow in the Department of General Practice and Rural Health at the University of Otago. Her area of research is patient safety in primary care and safe medicine use.|