Most women either don't recognise or tend to brush off the symptoms of a heart attack, at least partly due to anxiety over the possibility of being a "false alarm”. While taking that extra step to get immediate medical attention might seem scary, it could very literally be the difference between life and death. Hence, it’s not a decision you want to leave to your insecurities.
Compiled from Self magazine, here is a list of seven symptoms all women, old and young, should watch out for.
1. Chest discomfort
An uneasy feeling in your chest could include pain, tightness, squeezing, or pressure. The most common symptom among men and women is chest discomfort, says Sharonne Hayes, a cardiologist and founder of the Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Heart Clinic. But that discomfort isn't always the stabbing pain we usually see depicted in movies. In women especially, it may be more likely to manifest as a sense of pressure or tightness, explains Hayes.
2. Pain or discomfort that radiates into the jaw, shoulder, neck, back, or either arm
That chest pain may not always be felt in the center of the chest either—it can be on the left or right sides, or even in the upper abdomen or back, reveals Dr Nieca Goldberg. "When it's lower in the chest many mistake for a stomach ailment.” It can also radiate to your shoulders, jaw, neck, or your left or right arm. "We want patients to remember that anything above the waist could be the heart.”
3. Shortness of breath, especially if it's new
Although not everyone gets the classic symptoms, Dr Goldberg says many have mild heart attack symptoms and warning signs up to six weeks before the actual attack that may go unnoticed. For instance, you might notice that you're getting winded earlier in your workouts than usual without an obvious explanation. At that point, check in with your doctor to figure out what's going on.
They'll evaluate your other heart disease risk factors, including taking your blood pressure, and drawing blood for a cholesterol and glucose test. If there aren't any obviously concerning test results but you are still concerned, your doctor might also give you a stress test in which you'll walk on a treadmill and get your blood pressure taken every few minutes.
4. Feeling faint, lightheaded, or dizzy
Feeling like you're going to faint out of nowhere or actually fainting are both warning signs of a heart attack or other underlying cardiac issue, adds Dr Goldberg. This is especially worrying if it happens while you're working out, which may be a symptom of a rare but serious heart condition, such as Brugada syndrome.
5. Sweating that comes on suddenly
Unusual sweating that comes on suddenly is another surprising—and easily missed—symptom, says cardiologist Dr Nicole Weinberg. But it can be easily confused with night sweats or hot flashes, which become more common with age. But those events tend to be pretty short (they're usually over within a minute or two). So if your sweating is particularly extreme, doesn't go away, or makes it difficult for you to get back to sleep, it may be a sign of a heart attack.
6. Nausea or vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms for women, mentions Dr Weinberg. So it's not totally surprising that people often confuse their heart attack symptoms with food poisoning or other gastrointestinal issues—especially when these symptoms are combined with the possibility of feeling discomfort in the upper abdomen.
7. Unusual fatigue
Similar to the shortness of breath, Dr Goldberg says that a new, unexplained, profound sense of fatigue may be a warning sign of a heart attack. Fatigue may also be a symptom of many, many other issues—including anemia, depression, thyroid conditions, and even cancer—so it's important to get checked out by your doctor.
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