Heart Attack in Women

Heart attack (myocardial infarction) is one of the leading causes of sudden, unexpected death in women. Early recognition of heart attack symptoms is critical. Do not ignore heart attack symptoms. If you experience heart attack symptoms, get immediate help. Early treatment helps reduce heart damage.

CAUSES

A heart attack happens because the heart (coronary) arteries become blocked by fatty deposits (plaque) or blood clots. This reduces the oxygen and blood supply to the heart. When one or more of the heart arteries becomes blocked, that area of the heart will begin to die, causing the pain felt during a heart attack.

RISK FACTORS

In women, as the level of estrogen in the blood decreases after menopause, the risk of heart attack increases. Other risk factors of heart attack in women include:

  • High blood pressure.

  • High cholesterol levels.

  • Diabetes.

  • Smoking.

  • Obesity.

  • Menopause.

  • Hysterectomy.

  • Previous heart attack.

  • Lack of regular exercise.

  • Family history of heart attacks.

SYMPTOMS

In women, heart attack symptoms may be different than those in men. Women may not experience the typical chest discomfort or pain, which is considered the primary heart attack symptom in men. Women may describe a feeling of pressure, ache, or tightness in the chest. Women may experience new or different physical symptoms sometimes a month or more before a heart attack. Unusual, unexplained fatigue may be the most frequently identified symptom. Sleep disturbances and weakness in the arms may also be considered warning signs.

Other heart attack symptoms that may occur more often in women are:

  • Unexplained feelings of nervousness or anxiety.

  • Discomfort between the shoulder blades.

  • Tingling in the hands and arms.

  • Swollen arms.

  • Headaches.

Heart attack symptoms for both men and women include:

  • Pain or discomfort spreading to the neck, shoulder, arm, or jaw.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Sudden cold sweats.

  • Pain or discomfort in the abdomen.

  • Heartburn or indigestion with or without vomiting.

  • Sudden lightheadedness.

  • Sudden fainting or blackout.

PREVENTION

The following healthy lifestyle habits may help decrease your risk of heart attacks:

  • Quitting smoking.

  • Keeping your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels within normal limits.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

  • Staying physically active and exercising regularly.

  • Decreasing your salt intake.

  • Eating a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol.

  • Increasing your fiber intake by including whole grains, vegetables, and fruits in your diet.

  • Avoiding situations that cause stress, anger, or depression.

  • Taking medicine as advised by your caregiver.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have pain or discomfort in the middle of your chest.

  • You have pain or discomfort in the upper part of your body, such as the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

  • You develop shortness of breath.

  • You break out into a cold sweat.

  • You feel nauseous or lightheaded.

  • You have a fainting episode.

  • You feel very unusual weakness.

  • You feel that your heart is pounding very hard or is beating irregularly.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.