If you were having a heart attack, would you know it? If you’re a woman, there’s a chance you might miss the warning signs. While a man clutching his chest or grabbing his left arm often comes to mind when you think about what a heart attack looks like, recent research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that one in five women under the age of 55 having a heart attack don’t experience any chest pain, and many have no idea that they are experiencing anything of serious concern at all. The results from this study have profound implications for at-risk patients and medical practitioners, as it becomes more apparent that every second counts when it comes to surviving a heart attack.
Study on Heart Attack in Women
The current study was led by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. The information used for the study was obtained from partner institutions across Canada, including the University of British Columbia. The researchers evaluated data from more than 1,000 young patients who were hospitalized with acute coronary symptoms (ACS). They found that women were less likely than men to experience chest pain or to be aware that they were experiencing a heart attack. However, at the same time, the study showed that young individuals, including women, who came into the emergency room without chest pain but with other classic signs of acute coronary syndrome (ACS) (weakness, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeats, etc.) were in crisis. Women under the age of 55 were more likely to have their ACS symptoms misdiagnosed compared to men with the same symptoms, which ultimately led to a higher risk of death. Interestingly, the researchers also found that the lack of chest pain in women did not correlate with less severe heart attacks.
The researchers state that chest pain, age and gender are no longer the parameters that should define a heart attack diagnosis. Other ACS symptoms need to be recognized and new standards for assessments need to be developed to assess and treat other groups of heart attack sufferers, such as younger women.
Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms in Women
Most people will think of crushing chest pain with radiating pain down the arm as the classic symptom of a heart attack, but not all women will have this well-known symptom. There are a number of other symptoms that may not be as clear cut as chest pain that most men experience during a heart attack. It’s vital that women and health care practitioners be aware of other symptoms in order to make an accurate diagnosis resulting in a better chance of survival.
- Chest pain – women may experience chest pain, however, they will likely experience it differently than men. It may feel like a squeezing type pain or fullness of the chest. Additionally, unlike men it can be felt anywhere in the chest, not just on the left side.
- Pain in the arm, neck, jaw or back – pain experienced in these areas during a heart attack is more common in women than in men. The pain in these areas can occur suddenly or gradually and can be constant or intermittent. If you’re experiencing unusual pain in these areas, you should seek medical care immediately.
- Stomach pain – pain in the stomach is often confused with heartburn, ulcers or other illnesses such as the flu. However, some women who have experienced a heart attack state that the stomach pain that they feel is like an elephant sitting on their stomach.
- Shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness – if you’re having difficulty breathing with no physical exertion, especially if it’s combined with any other symptoms, you could be having a heart attack and should seek medical attention immediately.
- Sweating – breaking out in a cold sweat is a common heart attack symptom in women.
- Fatigue – if you’re feeling exhausted for no reason, along with any other of the above symptoms, these could be signals that you’re having a heart attack.
It’s important to remember that not every individual who is having a heart attack will have all of the symptoms mentioned above. However, if you experience any atypical symptoms, they should not be ignored. Get checked out by your medical practitioner immediately. And, if you have a number of the symptoms mentioned above, you should call 911 immediately – every second counts when it comes to surviving a heart attack.
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