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Feb 28, 2012

Women Less Likely to Have Chest Pain During Heart Attack

Atypical heart attack symptoms that every woman should know.

With more than 1.5 million heart attacks occurring each year in the United States, recognizing heart attack symptoms is extremely important—especially knowing that immediate treatment can greatly increase the chances of survival and can prevent long-term damage to the body. That’s why raising awareness of heart attack symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, lightheadedness, nausea and vomiting has become a major focus in the United States and internationally. Once individuals are better equipped to recognize signs of a heart attack, the more likely they are to seek immediate medical treatment, which improves outcomes.

But what experts are now finding is that many individuals—particularly women—are less likely to have these “common” heart attack symptoms, especially chest pain. In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers analyzed data collected from more than 1.1 million patients between the years of 1994 and 2006. They found that not only are women less likely to have chest pain during a heart attack, women without chest pain are more likely to die than male patients lacking this hallmark symptom. And perhaps most concerning, younger women are more likely to experience a heart attack without chest pain—especially those under 55 years of age.

So what does this mean for women? It is never too early to start taking care of your heart health and reducing any cardiovascular risk factors you have, including hypertension or high cholesterol. By controlling these risk factors, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke. And despite how good or bad your heart health may be, women should know what the typical and atypical heart attack symptoms are and seek immediate medical attention at the first sign of a heart attack.

Watch a news video about this study featuring CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief, Dr. JoAnne Foody.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are the most common heart attack symptoms in women?
  • The most common symptoms of heart attack in women include discomfort or pressure in the chest; pain in the arms, upper back, neck, jaw or stomach; nausea or vomiting; trouble breathing; breaking out in a cold sweat; dizziness or lightheadedness; inability to sleep; unusual fatigue and clammy skin. However, women may experience all, none, many or just a few of these heart attack symptoms.
  • How can I reduce my risk for heart attack?
  • You can significantly reduce risk for heart attack by knowing your numbers and addressing any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, including hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking. You can also help reduce cardiovascular risk by maintaining a healthy weight and heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly and controlling stress.


Kathleen Thompson is CardioSmart

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