Know the signs and call 911 for emergency assistance
We’ve all seen the dramatic movie scenes where a man gasps, clutches his chest, and falls to the ground. In reality, a heart attack victim could easily be a woman, and her symptoms can tend to be more subtle, according to the American Heart Association.
“Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure,” said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association volunteer. “Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure, or extreme fatigue.”
Even when the signs are less intense, the consequences can be deadly, especially if the individual doesn’t get help right away. And even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, women often chalk up heart attack symptoms to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu, or normal aging.
“They do this because they are scared and because they put their families first,” Goldberg said. “There are still many women who are shocked that they could be having a heart attack.”
If you or someone you know is having these signs, call 911 and get to a hospital right away:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
To keep your heart healthy and prevent heart attacks, the American Heart Association recommends:
- Scheduling an appointment with your health care provider to learn your personal risk for heart disease.
- Quitting smoking.
- Starting an exercise program. (Just walking 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.)
- Modifying your family’s diet if needed.
California’s hundreds of thousands of licensed allied health professionals can help you with heart health questions and concerns. To ensure a professional is licensed, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.