Ask anyone what the primary symptom of a heart attack is, and they’re likely to say “chest pain.” In women, this may or may not be the lead symptom.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., but many women don’t recognize when a heart attack is happening because symptoms differ from those of men.
“People make the mistake of ignoring symptoms,” said Dr. James Dwyer, a cardiologist with YRMC PhysicianCare in Prescott Valley. “Women especially need to be more aware of the symptoms of a heart attack. Women tend to be tougher. They tend to ignore things more than the guys when it comes to their hearts.”
Dwyer offers this advice to women:
Know the symptoms of a heart attack: Watch for upper back pain, neck/jaw/throat pain, cold sweats, indigestion, heartburn, nausea and/or vomiting, extreme fatigue or shortness of breath.
“If last week, you could go for your walk, and this week you’re having more discomfort and breathlessness as you are walking—this is something that you should have checked,” Dwyer said.
Don’t assume your blood pressure is OK.
High blood pressure, just like high cholesterol, is a silent condition that can lead to heart disease. Be sure to have your doctor check your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar readings regularly and make this a lifelong habit. Healthy blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association, is a reading of less than 120 over less than 80.
Understand silent heart attacks can happen.
You can have a heart attack without knowing it. People who’ve experienced a silent heart attack often rationalized the symptoms, dismissing them as indigestion, the flu, a pulled muscle in their chest or upper back or they assume they are simply more tired than usual. Misreading these symptoms puts your heart at greater risk.
Once you know the risks, how do you prevent a heart attack? The first step is to talk to one’s doctor and evaluate individual heart attack risk.
For more information, or to find a cardiologist, contact YRMC’s Physician Referral Service at 928-771-5106.