Contrary to popular belief, heart attacks aren’t something you can put off worrying about until you’re an AARP card member. What’s more, you may have already had a heart attack without even knowing it.
With an estimated one in four women in the U.S. dying from heart disease, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association couldn’t have come at a better time. The study found that in reality, women are having heart attacks at a younger age and without the normal symptoms we usually associate with a heart attack.
The study, which followed 1.4 million heart attack patients for 12 years, found that 42 percent of the women experienced a heart attack without any chest pain, compared to 30 percent of the men in the study. Heart attacks also led to death in more of these women — possibly because they didn’t think they were having a heart attack in the first place, and therefore put off going to the hospital. Also worrisome was the fact that most of the women with these atypical symptoms were younger (less than 55 years old).
“As presented in the media, chest pain is the hallmark symptom of heart attack. But many women, when compared with men, don’t present to the hospital with chest pain,” study author Dr. John G. Canto, cardiologist at the Watson Clinic and Lakeland Regional Medical Center in Lakeland, Fla., said in a written statement.
The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign recently produced this video (featuring Elizabeth Banks, star of the upcoming film, “The Hunger Games“) highlighting some of the lesser-known symptoms of a heart attack that can sneak up on a younger woman.
Knowing which to be on the look out for may help you get medical attention in time. In addition to chest pain and discomfort, look for the following symptoms (which may or may not also accompany chest pain):
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or numbness in places like your jaw, arms, stomach, or back
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Breaking out into a cold sweat
Doctors say that many women think they are coming down with the flu, are stressed, or have a pinched nerve, and therefore never go to the hospital. However, it’s important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible; the American Heart Association warns that you should get to a hospital immediately—or at minimum, call 911 within five minutes of experiencing these symptoms.
Women can reduce their risk of a heart attack by arming themselves with knowledge. By monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, women can become more aware of their heart attack risk. In addition, the American Medical Association estimates that 80% of heart-related deaths can be reduced through improved diet, daily exercise, and quitting smoking.
So be sure to get checked out and take care of yourselves.
Photo courtesy of Zimbio