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Posted on: August 7, 2019 at 6:56 pm
Last updated: August 8, 2019 at 9:40 pm

Take a moment to think of the most common deadly health condition among women. Are you thinking about breast cancer? If so, you have plenty of company. Thanks to a male bias in the way information is spread, women’s real biggest health threat slips under the radar. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, causing about 1 in every 5 female deaths! (CDC, 1)

Similarly, heart attack symptoms are often portrayed as sudden, overwhelming chest pain. But the symptoms often vary between men and women. 

How Women Experience Heart Attacks

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“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.” (Heart & Stroke Foundation, 2)

For women who are entering menopause or who have already experienced it, the risk of heart attacks and heart disease are elevated. “An overall increase in heart attacks among women is seen about 10 years after menopause.” This comes from a couple of factors, including: 

  • Reduced estrogen levels (estrogen is thought to play a protective role in artery health) 
  • Other lifestyle risk factors can begin to show symptoms around the same time (such as inactivity or smoking)  (Heart & Stroke Foundation, 3

Nevertheless, young women shouldn’t assume they’re safe from heart attacks either

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“I had a heart attack… I thought I strained some muscles”

Recently, one nurse, who uses the Twitter handle @gwheezie posted about how she recognized she was having a heart attack. 

“I want to warn women our heart attacks feel different. Last Sunday I had a heart attack. I had a 95% block in my left anterior descending artery. I’m alive because I called 911. I never had chest pain. It wasn’t what you read in pamphlets. I had it off & on for weeks.” (Twitter, 4)

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“The pain ran across my upper back, shoulder blades & equally down both arms. It felt like burning & aching. I actually thought it was muscle strain. It wasn’t until I broke into drenching sweat & started vomiting that I called 911.” (Twitter, 5)

“I’m a nurse. I’m an older woman. I had been spending the week helping my neighbor clean out her barn, I thought I strained some muscles. I took Motrin & put a warm pack on my shoulders, I almost died because I didn’t call it chest pain.” (Twitter, 6)

“The day before my heart attack I drove 6 hours to help my mother who lives in another state. I thought I should go to a dr but I had to help my mom who is 90 & I’d just tough it out because it wasn’t real bad.” (Twitter, 7)

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“I was lucky, I had no idea what hospital to go to, the female medics who picked me up took me to a hospital that does cardiac caths, I had 4 stents placed an hour after I got to the ER. That was Sunday. I was discharged Thursday & at my daughter’s house & back to tweeting.” (Twitter, 8)

“I’m looking forward to cardiac rehab, my dad had his mi [myocardial infarction] when he was 62, he did cardiac rehab which led him to a lifestyle changes, went to a gym until he was 86, died at 90. Never another mi.” (Twitter, 9)

Not long before this, 45-year-old Angie MacAull from Prince Edward Island, Canada was troubled by painful symptoms that she almost dismissed. “I was humiliated that I might go into the ER for acid reflux,” she recalls. But further tests revealed that she too was suffering from a severe heart attack. 

Next Page: The Hidden Signs of Heart Attack for Women

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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Emese Graham
Health Expert
Emese believes women's health, mental health, and spiritual health really matter, so she jumps at the chance to bring those conversations to light. In her spare time, Emese enjoys finding challenging workout videos on Youtube (because gyms are hard for introverts), and she's all about getting creative in the kitchen and making recipes a little different every time - who needs measuring cups?

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