When it comes to the warning signs of a heart attack, men and women are not created equal. As a result, women often ignore their symptoms or discount them as nothing serious—until they are rushed to an emergency department and told they’ve suffered a heart attack. It’s only then that they realize that nausea or achiness they felt earlier may have been an omen.
UR Medicine Cardiologist Dr. Rebecca Schallek says women and men can experience heart attacks very differently and it’s important to know the range of symptoms.
In general, men feel pressure or a squeezing pain in the center of their chest, which may spread to the neck, shoulder or jaw. This may be accompanied by lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
Some women experience those symptoms, too. However, many do not feel the “hallmark symptom” of chest pain or intense pressure. Instead they feel arm, shoulder or neck pain, fatigue and nausea, which can easily be mistaken as a stomach bug or another minor ailment.
Heeding these warning signs can be a life-saver. Of the 43 million women living with some form of heart disease, one in three will die from it—making it the leading cause of death among women in the U.S.
While heart disease can be hereditary, preventive steps can make a difference for many. These lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk:
- Don’t smoke. Tobacco use increases the risk of death from heart disease by 2 to 3 times.
- Get plenty of exercise to strengthen your heart.
- Eat a plant-based diet to ensure quality nutrition.
- Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Minimize chronic stress.
- If you are concerned about your family history or personal risk factors, talk with your physician.
Rebecca Schallek, M.D., is co-director of the Women’s Heart Program, a part of UR Medicine Heart and Vascular. She sees patients at Highland Hospital, Strong West and in Henrietta. To make an appointment with the Women’s Heart Program, call (585) 275-2877.