February is American Heart Month. Go Red for Women’s Heart Health Awareness! Heart Disease is the Number One Killer of Women, surpassing all forms of cancer combined.
Many heart attacks and strokes are not only preventable, there is a good chance for great recoveries if treated if early so recognizing early symptoms is critical, and women’s symptoms are very different from those of men.
- Symptoms of Heart Attacks in Women – Different From Men
- Symptoms of Stroke – Many Symptoms for Women are Different
- Factors That Increase Risk Women’s Risk of Heart Disease
- What Can Women Do to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease?
Women’s heart attacks are often overlooked as other problems and are different than symptoms for men.
Don’t Overlook Common Warning Signs
Heart attacks often start with some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest but usually is far more subtle and therefore mistaken for something else.
Women who are having a heart attack often have no significant chest pain.
Common, and often overlooked, symptoms for women include:
- Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Back, neck and jaw pain (yes: jaw pain)
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feelings of faintness, “lightheaded,” or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
Symptoms of Stroke in Women
Most strokes are caused by heart disease, and like heart attacks, the early symptoms of stroke are often overlooked as minor ailments that will pass.
This truly is a shame, new medications can prevent severe brain injury, permanent loss of independence and/or death if administered in time.
According to the National Stroke Association, common symptoms of stroke in “men and women include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding others that are speaking.
“Many women also often experience subtler and easily overlooked symptoms such as:
- Sudden face and limb pain
- Sudden hiccups
- Sudden nausea
- Sudden general weakness
- Sudden chest pain
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Sudden palpitations
If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and do this simple test:
- F- FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- A- ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S – SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
- T- TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
The National Stroke Association says “The Time to Act is When Any Symptoms First Appear. If given within three hours of the first symptom, there is an FDA-approved clot-buster medication that may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke…” (Above paragraphs are taken largely from National Stroke Association.)
Personally: I know these new drugs work miracles if given in time. My mother had a major stroke last year and received this wonder drug immediately upon arrival in the ER. At first, she could not speak, understand much of what people said to her, and difficultly moving/feeling parts her body. Noticeable improvements were seen in hours and within 72 hours, was able to walk and completed the Sunday crossword puzzles in ink.
Quick Action is Needed for Heart Attack or Strokes: When in Doubt, Err on the Side of Caution
Some heart attacks are immediately obvious to trained medical personal; others are not.
Most of the time, possible heart attacks or strokes are treated as the real thing: blood thinners to reduce clots and stabilization of blood pressure or cardiac rhythms.
Many first time heart attacks (men and women) are relatively minor and overlooked warning signs since people think “I feel fine, it was nothing.” Without treatment, a significantly stronger and/or fatal heart attack is almost always going to occur: hours, days, weeks, maybe months. Odds are it will happen.
Many First-Time, Mild Heart Attacks Do Not Show Up on Early Tests
All heart attacks damage the heart muscle to some degree. Many times, first-time or mild heart attacks can’t be confirmed for hours after the event and it’s usually done with blood tests.
Meanwhile, you’re at risk for another, stronger heart attack. Heart attacks are often confirmed by blood tests hours after the event. Heart attacks damage the heart, which creates enzymes.
This damage often is the only way to confirm a heart attack has occurred. It often takes hours for lab tests to confirm the enzymes are there.
Eight hours after my husband’s first heart attack, I was told it was false alarm and to go home and get some sleep. Shortly after I got home, the fourth blood test confirmed a heart attack. He was 40 and very lucky because he thought it was nothing.
He actually called from a return line at a department store and then again on the drive home. When he told me his symptoms I called the ambulance, which was waiting for him when he pulled into the driveway. He was lucky, because it was same story second time around. Finally, he knows he’s running out of luck and is working hard to control his weight, exercise daily and changed many bad habits including smoking. But it took take two heart attacks for him to make serious, long-term changes.
Special Note for Migraine Sufferers
Migraine sufferers know that stroke symptoms, for example, are common for severe migraines and the “aura” that precedes them.
Even if long-term migraine patients should be seen by medical professionals to rule out the possibility of a stroke.
Ruling out a stroke takes a short time, and can be annoying.
Factors That Increase Risk for Heart Disease Risk Factors for Women
This is straight from the Mayo Clinic’s website. “Although the traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — affect women and men, other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. For example:
- Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
- Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you’re having symptoms of depression.
- Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
- Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels (small vessel heart disease).”
Again, we quote the Mayo Clinic. “Women under the age of 65 who have a family history of heart disease should pay particularly close attention to the heart disease risk factors. Women of all ages should take heart disease seriously.
There are several lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease:
- Exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days of the week.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit or don’t start smoking.
- Eat a diet that’s low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt.
You’ll also need to take prescribed medications appropriately, such as blood pressure medications, blood thinners and aspirin. And you’ll need to better manage other conditions that are risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Some women at high risk of heart disease may also benefit from the use of supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids.”
Women’s Heart Disease Prevention Checklist (from www.goredforwomen.org)
The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women site offers lots of information about your risk factors and a heart disease prevention checklist. We can’t do any better, so here’s the link: https://www.goredforwomen.org/live-healthy/first-steps-to-prevent-heart-disease-and-be-heart-healthy/heart-disease-prevention-checklist/Go Red For Women
Note: Just be patient, there is a big Flash file on the Go Red for Women home page that takes a while to load, especially on slower internet connections. (One reason why we didn’t show it earlier. Other pages where real information on risk factors, prevention, etc. load far more quickly.
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