Many of us tend to think of heart disease as a problem of men, like male-pattern baldness or mansplaining. But women are impacted too. In fact, heart disease is a killer, regardless of gender. And that makes it so important for you, your wives, your aunts, your mothers, your sisters, and your friends to know the signs.
Same Disease, Different Symptoms
What is the image that pops in your head when you hear the words “heart attack”? Perhaps it’s a man grabbing his chest in agony as he explains to the ER doctor that there’s a sharp pain inching down his arm. Maybe he’s dizzy. Maybe he’s sweaty. Maybe he’s convinced it’s heartburn.
For men, the above is common: heart attacks often present in this manner. Yet women have the same disease with different symptoms.
Most notably absent is the universal symptom of pain. While women can experience chest pain during a heart attack, many don’t. Some may even have a heart attack without experiencing any obvious signs.
In a way, that’s kind of badass; dismissing a heart attack so you can get the kids to school or finish your business proposal is such a woman thing to do. We don’t have time for plaque in our arteries, we’ve got trails to blaze.
However (and it’s a pretty big “however”), not knowing that you had a heart attack is dangerous – it stops you from addressing the problem, ultimately setting yourself up to have another one.
This is why knowing the symptoms, especially the subtle, easy-to-miss hints, is vital to your vital signs.
Women experience symptoms during the active phase of their heart attack, but they experience them a month before as well, ominous clues that something is coming.
In the weeks prior, some women may have disturbances in sleep, anxiety, lightheaded episodes, shortness of breath, pain in the back, shoulders, jaw or throat, and pressure in the chest.
Importantly, you may have the feeling of an impending sense of doom (this can also happen when a stroke is imminent), which should compel you to act. Yep, women’s intuition is powerful enough to predict the future. That’s why we know to heed it.
Signs During a Heart Attack
During a heart attack, women might experience angina (a dull or sharp pain that starts in the chest and feels as though it spreads like a crack in a windshield), jaw or throat pain, pain in the neck, and pain in the stomach or upper back. Additionally, women may feel as though they have the flu, with nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fatigue.
The wide range of symptoms makes it easy for women and their doctors to miss a heart attack, especially in those with low risk. There are certain factors that increase likelihood of heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and – notably – cigarette smoking. Anything that increases the risk of obesity (eating a high fat diet, drinking too much alcohol, and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle), makes you more likely to have a heart attack, too.
Yet, even without risk factors, anyone can have one. And that means knowing the symptoms is the key to swift medical care. When in doubt, go with what you feel: listening to your gut just might save your heart.