The medical community has placed a great deal of emphasis on heart health, from preventive measures such as exercise and nutrition to recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack. Unfortunately, much of that emphasis has focused on men’s health, not women’s.
Heart attack is the number one killer of women. And, because symptoms can be quite different in women than in men, it’s extremely important that we recognize those symptoms.
Men typically experience chest discomfort/pressure (akin to having an elephant sit on your chest), discomfort in other areas of the upper body and shortness of breath. Women, on the other hand, can be suffer a heart attack without having any chest discomfort.
Women’s heart attack symptoms
I can’t stress enough how important it is to recognize the other symptoms, as listed by the American Heart Association:
- Discomfort in the middle of your chest (pressure, squeezing, fullness, pain) that continues for more than a few minutes, stops, then comes back
- Discomfort or pain in the jaw, neck, back, one or both arms, or stomach
- A cold sweat
- Fainting or lightheadedness
- Extreme fatigue
Don’t overlook the last four symptoms listed above. These often are confused for something less serious, such as the flu or indigestion. If you have these symptoms and think you’re having a heart attack, here’s what to do, according to the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School:
- Don’t wait – call 911 immediately.
- Chew, not swallow, a regular dose 325-mg aspirin.
- If necessary, have someone drive you to the hospital.
- If no other options are available, drive yourself to the hospital.
Time is of the essence
Treatments to restore the flow of blood (and oxygen) to the heart are most beneficial when used in the first several hours of suffering a heart attack.
Take two aspirin and call me in the morning…
Aspirin is not just for aches and pains. In the case of a heart attack, it can be a lifesaver.
You should always keep some with or near you (for yourself and those you care about). I carry a bottle with me in my purse now. As a friend of mine recently had a heart attack, and the ER doctor told her the aspirin she chewed saved her life! Here’s why: Aspirin inhibits platelets. Most heart attacks develop when a cholesterol-laden plaque ruptures in a coronary artery. When it does, it attracts platelets (the tiny blood cells that trigger blood clotting) to its surface. As the clot grows, it blocks the artery. If the blockage is complete, it deprives part of the heart muscle of oxygen. Muscle cells die, causing a heart attack.
Note: Don’t take coated aspirin, which will act too slowly.
An ounce of prevention?
Some doctors suggest taking a low-dose aspirin daily as a preventive measure to reduce your heart attack risk. According to the American Heart Association, a study of women older than 65 revealed that a daily low-dose aspirin reduced both heart attack and stroke. Also, women who previously had a heart attack or stroke are known to benefit from this daily regimen. One negative side effect, though, is that aspirin increased by 40 percent the risk of stomach and intestinal bleeding.
Regular exercise is perhaps the best preventive “medicine” you can practice for heart health. A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for heart disease, so get moving! Exercise has many benefits, according to the Heart Association’s Go Red for Women site, including keeping cholesterol and blood pressure down, maintaining a healthy weight, and making the heart work more efficiently. An added bonus: Exercise can help ease menopausal symptoms!
If you’re on HRT and wonder if it’s safe for your heart, check out the latest report from the KEEPS Study in this Menopause Mondays Health News Flash. Research says women can use estrogen as a way to treat common menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats without direct harm to their heart health. Transdermal HRT may be better for women with existing cardiovascular disease risk factors, because oral estrogen has been found to have a prothrombotic effect. The study found no effect on blood pressure with the low-dose KEEPS regimens.
While I’m not encouraging women to be hypochondriacs, I am encouraging you to take these symptoms seriously. Don’t shrug them off as just more menopausal symptoms. If you’re not sure, get to a hospital ASAP. As they say, better safe than sorry (or worse).
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!