From Sinai-Grace Healthy Living Newsletter
DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital (SGH)
“I just felt tired.” “I had an upset stomach and some pain in my shoulder.” “I was dizzy, then short of breath.” Most women will not recognize that these are common descriptions of a common condition: heart attack. That’s because the symptoms of heart attack can be different in men and women.
Women may know the “classic” symptoms of male heart attacks -- squeezing chest pain, shortness of breath, stabbing chest pain. However, the symptoms of female heart attacks can include none of those signs.
Dr. Syed Mahmood - DMC Sinai Grace Hospital
“More than 40 percent of women experience no chest pain at all,” notes Syed Mahmood, M.D., chief of interventional cardiology at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital. “Women often have symptoms that can be confused with other illnesses such as indigestion, and that are very vague or diffuse so that it is difficult to link them to a heart attack.”
Dr. Mahmood recommends that women look for a cluster of unusual symptoms or a sensation in the chest or stomach that hasn’t been felt before.
NO DIFFERENCE IN TREATMENT
Despite varying symptoms, the same rules for prompt diagnosis and treatment apply to both men and women: Call 911 or go to the hospital immediately if you suspect you are having a heart attack.
“Delaying treatment to open the blocked blood vessel to the heart means that more damage is done to the heart muscle. If a large amount of the heart muscle is damaged, you will be at risk for heart failure,” says Dr. Mahmood.
“The important thing to know is that treatment is the same whether you are a man or a woman,” says Dr. Mahmood. “Becoming familiar with the symptoms will help you know if you are having a heart attack.”
HEART ATTACK SYMPTOMS
While symptoms can vary for each person, the most common symptoms of a heart attack are usually different for men and women.
Scientists found that during an attack, 43% of the 515 women studied had no “acute chest pain, a ‘hallmark symptom in men."
The study noted some common female heart attack symptoms:
• shortness of breath (57.9%)
• weakness (54.8%)
• unusual fatigue (42.9%)
Women had other atypical heart attack symptoms, too: nausea, dizziness, lower chest discomfort, upper abdominal pressure or discomfort that feels like indigestion, and upper back pain.
Often, women are unfamiliar with these atypical symptoms and blame them on heartburn or indigestion, arthritis, or stress, experts say. If they become short of breath with little exertion, they tell themselves they are out of shape, overworked, or fatigued.
If you need to find a primary care physician, please visit our DMC "Find A Doctor" page at http://www.dmc.org/physicians.
For more information on heart attack symptoms and general health information, please visit our DMC Health Library page at http://www.dmc.org/healthlibrary.