Heart attack symptoms in women over 50: Facts on women and heart disease

By: Mohan Garikiparithi | Heart Attack and Stroke | Tuesday, February 07, 2017 - 08:30 AM

Heart attack symptoms in women over 50February 3, 2017 was National Wear Red Day, an event held by the American Heart Association that raises awareness about the high risk of heart disease among women. Women have nearly double the risk of dying due to a heart attack as men do, and education about the signs and symptoms is necessary in order to help reduce and prevent these potentially fatal events from occurring.

Continue reading to learn about the prevalence of heart disease in women, as well as how to identify common heart attack symptoms and what effect aging has on a women’s heart as she ages.

Facts on women and heart disease

Cardiovascular disease and strokes are responsible for approximately one in every three American women’s deaths each year, meaning these issues kill one woman every 80 seconds. Approximately 44 million women in the U.S. alone are affected by cardiovascular disease, with 90% of them having at least one risk factor for developing heart disease or suffering a stroke. A significant 80% of cardiac and stroke events in women could be prevented through better education and lifestyle changes, which makes acknowledging these risk factors and treating them extremely important.

Common heart attack symptoms in women over 50

Women and men may experience different heart attack symptoms. For women, these symptoms can be classified as typical or atypical. Typical symptoms include chest pain that feels like pressure, squeezing, or stabbing pains in the center or left side of the chest. Discomfort and pain in the arms is also considered a typical symptom, most notably in the left arm. This pain can also spread to the neck and jaw. Typical symptoms also include nausea and vomiting, as well as shortness of breath and fatigue.

Atypical symptoms experienced by women over 50 who are suffering a heart attack include abdominal pain or discomfort, excessive sweating, lightheadedness and dizziness, toothache, weak or irregular pulse, and unusual levels of anxiety and stress.

Impact of aging on a woman’s heart

As women age, their risk of dying from heart disease increases. A woman’s chance of suffering a heart attack doubles between the ages of 60 and 79, and doubles again once they hit 80. The risk of a heart attack being fatal increases significantly every ten years for women, and the higher risk almost always begins after menopause.

Key differences between heart attacks in men and women

Some of the major differences between heart attacks in men and women are:

  • Plaque build-up in arteries can differ between sexes—women are less likely to undergo stenting to open blocked arteries, but still suffer from blood vessel damage and reduced blood flow.
  • High blood pressure is a stronger risk factor for women than men, and diabetes increases women’s risk of heart disease fivefold.
  • Guideline-recommended medications are underused in women versus men, and women are less likely to be recommended cardiac rehabilitation.
  • Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, and nausea and vomiting, as opposed to chest pains as an early sign of a heart attack.
  • Women may not experience chest pain or discomfort when having a heart attack, the symptom that is often referred to as the first clear indicator of an attack.
  • Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath and extreme fatigue as a telltale symptom.
  • Women are twelve times more likely to experience throat discomfort than men during a heart attack.

Tips for women to achieve a stronger heart

Six key tips for women to achieve a healthier and stronger heart are:

Control your risk factors: Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease, so it’s important to manage these conditions. Talk to your healthcare provider about an effective treatment plan.

Don’t smoke: If you smoke, try to quit.

Maintain a healthy weight and get regular physical activity: Walking is a great way to start getting active and begin to lose or maintain a healthy weight, though it is important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.

Eat a heart-healthy diet: A diet that’s full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is good for your heart. Limit the amount of saturated fat and sugary beverages in your diet.

Talk with your doctor about aspirin: Daily use of low-dose aspirin is not right for everyone. Aspirin can have side effects, so talk with your healthcare provider first.

Know the symptoms of a heart attack: Symptoms of heart attacks in women can be different from those in men. For women, they may include shortness of breath, nausea, and an ache or feeling of tightness in the chest, arm, neck, jaw, or abdomen.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for American women, and the risk of suffering a fatal heart attack only increases with age. It is vital that women and those around them educate themselves on the risk factors and symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease, as well as heart attacks and strokes, so they may work actively towards preventing these issues.

Related: National Wear Red Day: Heart artery dysfunction, heart disease risk, heart attack mortality in women

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