Heart Attack Signs Can Vary

| Graceful Health, News
Jennifer Zweig, DO

By Dr. Jennifer Zweig, Grace Cottage Emergency Dept.

Quick – what are the symptoms of a heart attack?

If you answered, “chest pain or squeezing pressure; jaw, neck, or back pain; nausea or vomiting; and shortness of breath,” you are correct. But did you know that, if you are female, the list of symptoms is even longer?

Heart attacks are the number 1 killer of both men and women. Heart disease is responsible for 1 of every 5 deaths, according to the American Heart Association. Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack, as well as knowing your own risk, could save your life.

A heart attack requires immediate medical attention. If you experience symptoms, call 911, and do not drive yourself to hospital. There are interventions that can be started as soon as the EMS arrives, so do not wait for a friend or family member to drive you either! People who arrive at the hospital by ambulance usually receive faster treatment, because EMS can call ahead, allowing the Emergency Department to prepare for your arrival. Every minute is important when diagnosing and treating a heart attack, so call right away. You also shouldn’t worry about being wrong. We would rather treat you in the ED for a false alarm, than have your heart damaged because you waited to seek help.

Women are more likely to discount heart attack symptoms than men, partly because they experience symptoms that are less well known to the public. While chest pain or pressure is still the leading symptom for women, they can also experience other symptoms less traditionally linked to heart attacks, such as upper back pressure, breaking out in a cold sweat, indigestion, nausea and vomiting, extreme fatigue, or lightheadedness and fainting.

The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD), which affects the blood flow to the heart. The coronary arteries supply blood and oxygen to your heart muscle and can become lined by deposits of fat and cholesterol called plaque. Plaque can cause chest pain or a heart attack as it limits blood flow to your heart by narrowing the space in your artery. If you have elevated blood pressure, these plaques can rupture and cause a major heart attack.

While some of the factors that contribute to the risk of heart disease, like age and family history, are beyond our control, most cardiovascular risk factors can be managed effectively with lifestyle changes. Actions you can take to decrease your risk of heart disease include:

  1. Quit smoking.
  2. Limit alcohol consumption
  3. Select foods such as whole grains, nuts, legumes, low-fat proteins, fruits and vegetables, and limit foods high in sugar, salt, saturated and trans-fats.
  4. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. This is just over 20 minutes a day and can include a brisk walk.
  5. If you have high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), or diabetes, take your medication as prescribed and see your provider regularly.
  6. Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

Your primary care provider is an expert who can help you assess, and if necessary reduce, your risk of heart disease. They can help you with dietary changes and exercise recommendations, aid you in quitting smoking, and, if necessary, treat your blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol with medications.

I hope you will take this information “to heart.” For the sake of your own life, and for the others who care for you, let February’s American Heart Month be a time to recommit to good heart health.