Over my 25 years as a Registered Nurse , I have seen cases where women present signs of a heart attack, yet treatment is delayed. This is often because the warning signs are more subtle in women. Women also tend to ignore their own health in order to take care of their families. Another issue is that healthcare professionals will miss the signs as they often mimic other healthcare issues. Don’t allow your healthcare professional to ‘brush off’ heart attack warning signs. Trust your intuition! You know your body better than anyone… If you can tell something is wrong, insist that your doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner run more tests. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
February is American Heart Month. As we near the end of February, I cannot help but place some focus on Women and Heart Disease. The American Heart Association launched the “Go Red for Women” campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of heart disease among women. So far, it is estimated to have saved more than 627,000 lives! Unfortunately, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in both men and women. Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. The good news is—heart disease is preventable and controllable.
Regardless of your age or health conditions, be proactive and seek immediate treatment if you begin to experience symptoms that you are unaccustomed to. Below are warning signs women should pay attention to, as they could be signaling the onset of a heart attack.
7 Warning Signs Women Should Not Ignore
- Pain. Classic heart attack symptoms include chest pain, pressure, burning, and discomfort centered under the breastbone. Other aches and pains to pay attention to include the back, shoulders, arms, stomach and jaw. **Note: They may come and go and are often not as pronounced in women.
- Shortness of breath. Many women feel as if they are panting and trying to take deep breaths. This can occur days or weeks before a heart attack.
- Nausea or dizziness. It’s fairly common to vomit during a heart attack. Nausea or heartburn accompanied by light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting are signs of abnormal heart rhythms.
- Unusual fatigue. Many women feel extremely tired days or weeks before, or during an attack. This typically means feeling so weak that you cannot do any normal activity.
- Rapid or irregular pulse. A rapid or irregular pulse accompanied by any other warning signs can be a strong indicator of a heart attack, arrhythmia, or heart failure.
- Heavy sweating. If you are pale and covered in sweat for no reason, this may be an indicator of a heart attack. Feeling sweaty with cold clammy skin is also a common symptom.
- Swelling. Swelling, usually in the abdomen or lower extremities, is the result of fluids accumulating in the body during heart failure.
I recently had a patient where her only warning sign was nausea over several days. It was almost passed up for the flu. She did not experience chest pain. Fortunately for this woman, she took her blood pressure daily. On day three of nausea, her blood pressure was much lower than it usually had been. She went to the Urgent Care near her home – still not thinking she had anything more than the flu. An EKG was done and she was sent directly to the hospital via ambulance.
It is important to know that patients who are diabetic may not experience chest pain; and if they do, it may not be to the same intensity. It is important to be aware of these other symptoms and address them immediately.
Reduce your Risk for Heart Disease
There are things every woman can do to reduce her risk for heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, women who have become aware of the dangers of heart disease say they have made healthy changes. More than a third report shedding excess pounds via diet and exercise. Other women say they have talked to their physician about developing a “heart health plan.”
The “Go Red for Women” campaign encourages strength in numbers—it promotes women coming together to fight heart disease. A spokesperson notes that “women have the power to save their own lives.” Don’t take a chance: if you have one or more of the symptoms discussed in this article, take a few hours out of your day to get checked out. It could be the best decision you ever make