Warning signs of heart attack in women: You must know

Typical warning signs of heart attack in women are chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, but also pain in the upper abdomen.

What are the warning signs of heart attack in women?

Warning signs of heart attack in women
Warning signs of heart attack in women

The following symptoms are typical of a heart attack:

  • Sudden, severe chest pain that may radiate to the shoulders, left arm and left hand.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Fear and annihilation feeling.
  • Low blood pressure, weak, slow pulse.
  • Pallor, cold sweat, cold extremities.

However, around half of the women do not experience these typical symptoms. Instead, they feel:

  • Breathlessness or shortness of breath.
  • Dizzy spells.
  • Nausea and vomit.
  • Pain in the upper abdomen, neck, throat and jaw.

The main differences in a heart attack between men and women lie in the occurrence of symptoms. In addition to the classic symptoms such as chest pain, which radiate to other parts of the body, women complain of shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, back or neck pain, jaw and sore throat as well as discomfort in the upper abdomen.

Because of the misinterpretation of these symptoms, there is often a life-threatening loss of time in seeking medical help. Chest pain also feels different. In women, this is more a feeling of pressure or tightness and not necessarily the stinging in the chest known to men. The transmission of pain to other parts of the body, such as the left arm, is also often absent in women.

Among the harbingers of a heart attack in women, Those that can last for days or weeks include persistent fatigue, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, indigestion, numbness in the arms, and pain in the back or legs. Monitoring the symptoms can significantly reduce the risk.

The classic chest pain is often not as pronounced in women – many sufferers therefore misjudge the situation.

Heart attack alarming signs in women

  • Chest pain.
  • Pain in the upper abdomen.
  • Back pain (between shoulder blades).

If you experience any of the above warning signs of heart attack in women, contact your doctor immediately.

Why is time the most important factor?

The danger of ignoring and playing down symptoms is more common in women than in men. Realizing that symptoms suggest a heart attack often comes too late or not at all. In the case of a heart attack in particular, it is crucial to get help as early as possible in order to avoid consequential damage or even death.

Whether for men or women: The first hour after a attack, is crucial. Rapid intervention can reduce or even prevent consequential damage. In the event of a heart attack, the blocked artery cuts off the supply of oxygen to the heart muscle. After 20 to 60 minutes, this irretrievably dies in the undersupplied area and the tissue scars. The scars can later trigger dangerous arrhythmias.

Studies have shown that only 11% of all heart attack cases receive the necessary intervention within the golden hour. The cause of the delay lies in the often difficult assessment of the symptoms and a widespread attitude not to cause a great stir about one’s own situation. The first contact with medical help is therefore important.

What impact can age have on women and men?

In addition to the symptoms, there is another difference in age between women and men. In women, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases from around the age of 60. This is due to the decrease in hormone production after menopause.

The hormones circulating in the body protect women from early heart attacks. Men, on the other hand, are affected from around the age of 50.

What additional risk factors are there in women?

The well-known risk factors for a heart attack also apply to women: high blood pressure, increased blood lipid levels, stress, obesity, diabetes and smoking. However, smoking in particular has a much more severe impact on heart health in women than in men.

This risk factor has increased significantly in recent years. The risk of having a heart attack is 25 percent higher for women who smoke than for men. An additional risk factor in women is taking the pill.

In the event of a heart attack, the heart receives too little oxygen due to a vascular blockage.

Many women do not take these symptoms seriously, sometimes they do not even notice that they have had a heart attack that weakens the heart for a long time. In men, on the other hand, the symptoms of myocardial infarction are usually very different: They often complain of sudden, severe pain in the chest.

A reliable diagnosis is made through an EKG, blood test and heart ultrasound. The narrowing of the coronary arteries can be widened with a balloon catheter or bypassed. There are also drugs that dissolve blood clots in the vessels.

How common does a heart attack occur in women?

In men, the risk of a heart attack increases from around the age of 45, and women are often only affected after menopause.

The reason for this is the hormone level: Due to the vascular protective effect of estrogen, heart attacks are rare up to the menopause, with the decrease in the vascular protective hormone, the risk of a heart attack also increases.

In addition to age, other factors that increase the likelihood of a heart attack in women include:

Causes of a Heart Attack in Women

A heart attack is triggered by a circulatory disorder in the vessels of the heart. Due to the reduced blood flow, the heart muscle receives too little oxygen and can no longer work properly as a result.

The cause of the circulatory disorder is a change in the vascular wall. Fat deposits in the vessels lead to a chronic inflammatory reaction (arteriosclerosis), which creates what is known as atherosclerotic plaque. This narrows the coronary artery. The sealing process can sometimes take years.

In the event of a heart attack, a plaque particle loosens from this damaged arterial wall, and platelets adhere to it and form a blood clot. The clot almost or completely blocks the coronary arteries and thus interrupts the supply of blood and oxygen. The result is rapid heart muscle death or cardiac arrhythmias that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

Heart attack: women experience it differently

The difference between the sexes is not only evident in the symptoms; the course of the disease can also differ. The life expectancy after a heart attack is shorter for women than for men, the following reasons can play a role:

  • Menopause : On the one hand, heart attacks in women often only occur at an advanced age after menopause; many men are affected as early as 45 years of age.
  • Delayed diagnosis : As the symptoms in women are initially ignored or misinterpreted, the diagnosis is made later, and consequently therapy can only begin with a delay. During this “lost” time, larger and larger parts of the heart muscle die.
  • Complications : Women are more likely to experience complications such as bleeding when treating their infarct.
  • Depression : In addition, around 30 percent of women experience depression after the heart attack. That is about 10% more people affected than the opposite sex.

Why does a heart attack often only occur after menopause in women?

Before menopause, women benefit from the protective effect of female sex hormones (estrogens). They not only regulate the cycle and pregnancy, but are also involved in different metabolic processes. They influence inflammatory reactions and blood clotting and they have a widening effect on the blood vessels.

In this way, estrogens can protect against the formation of arteriosclerotic deposits in the vessels and protect against coronary heart disease. After the menopause, however, the hormone protection diminishes: the risk of suffering a heart attack then increases more rapidly in women than in men.

Heart attack in women: diagnosis

Diagnosis of heart attack
Diagnosis of heart attack

Although the symptoms of a heart attack can express themselves differently in men and women, there are no differences in terms of diagnostic and therapeutic measures.

When the blood clot clogs a heart vessel, symptoms set in suddenly. The inadequate supply of oxygen leads to the death of the heart muscle. In this life-threatening situation, the rescue must be called immediately.

An EKG (electrocardiogram) is performed to confirm the diagnosis. The doctor can recognize a heart attack or cardiac arrhythmia from typical changes in the curve of the ECG.

A heart attack can also be detected with a blood test. After the infarction, increased troponin and creatine kinase (CK) values can be detected in those affected.

The function of the heart chambers is assessed using echocardiography (cardiac ultrasound). Disturbances in the course of the heart contraction become visible.

Take complaints seriously and also think about a heart attack!

In a heart attack, every minute makes the difference between life and death. But women in particular often do not take their symptoms seriously, suppress them or only speak out their complaints aloud when asked.

Often it is said: I don’t want to make any fuss! But that is exactly a big mistake. Especially in old age, women should always have the risk of a heart attack in mind – even if the symptoms are unspecific and raise doubts. But even younger women shouldn’t ignore the possibility of a heart attack.

Never ignore the warning signs of heart attack in women.

According to studies, they tend not to take complaints seriously enough. For them, professional obligations or looking after children are often the top priority. In general, it is better to dial the emergency number once too many than once too little! As a little guideline you can remember that you should get help immediately if the complaints occur to a previously unknown extent.

Treatment for a heart attack in women

As a first emergency measure, the doctor gives oxygen and painkillers. Then he tries to remove the blood clot that is the cause of the circulatory disorder – as a first measure with medication:

  • Medication : The doctor immediately gives medication (a fibrinolytic or platelet aggregation inhibitor) that inhibits blood clotting and the accumulation of blood platelets. Some of these drugs must continue to be taken after the heart attack to prevent recurrence.
  • Cardiac catheter : With a cardiac catheter, a thin, elastic tube is passed through the blood vessels to the heart via a puncture in the groin or on the arm. In order to be able to track the work steps, the doctor checks the course of the procedure with the help of contrast media on the X-ray machine. A tiny balloon is attached to the top of the catheter. As soon as the doctor hits the clot with the catheter, he expands this balloon, thereby expanding the vessel so that the blood circulates again. This procedure is called balloon dilatation. If treatment with a cardiac catheter is not possible within two hours after the infarction, the doctor will perform drug thrombolysis. Fibrinolysis, the body’s own dissolution of blood clots, is promoted.
  • Stent : The doctor often implants a stent so that the vessel remains open after the procedure. This is a tubular lattice framework that is stretched in the vessel and permanently supports the previously narrowed section.
  • Bypass surgery : When multiple coronary arteries are narrowed, doctors use open or minimally invasive bypass surgery. The blood supply to the heart is restored by diverting the blood flow. In order to bypass the narrowed vessels permanently, the doctor takes an artery or vein from the arm or leg of the person affected and implants it as a bridge in the heart. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia and takes several hours.

What can the person concerned do themselves?

To prevent a heart attack from occurring or recurring, those affected need to change their lifestyle. In order to minimize the risk factors, it is imperative to refrain from smoking. A healthy diet and exercise reduce obesity. Those affected can get advice in special coronary sports groups, where they can find support and like-minded people.

The anti-coagulant and anti-high blood pressure drugs must not be discontinued even after the acute treatment phase. The funds should be taken conscientiously and strictly as directed by a doctor.

Since women often have atypical symptoms, they should be particularly attentive to such complaints and not take them lightly. Sudden pain in the chest, stomach, neck and shoulder area, which can occur in connection with shortness of breath and nausea, should be clarified by a doctor.

About a third of the women affected develop depression after a heart attack, and here too there are very good treatment options.

Are women treated differently than men?

Women and men get in the hospital when the correct diagnosis is madethe same treatment. It is crucial to restore the oxygen supply to the heart muscle as quickly as possible after a vascular occlusion – this is usually done using catheter technology. Afterwards, patients are monitored in the intensive care unit.

The choice of drugs and their dosage have not differed so far either. However, it is important to know here that women are often underrepresented in large clinical studies. Usually only 25 percent of the study participants are female.

It is now known that there are different effects and side effects in men and women. That is why international guidelines now also call for more women to be included in studies.

Heart attack in women: Knowing and preventing risk factors

Postmenopausal women are not the only ones at risk of heart attacks. Younger women between 40 and 50 are also at risk – especially if they live unhealthily or have family ties. If you want to prevent your heart attack effectively and reduce your risk of heart attack, you should combat the following risk factors:

  • Obesity.
  • Smoking.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Increased blood lipids.
  • Increased blood sugar.
  • Psychosocial stress.
  • Stress.
  • Sedentary lifestyle.
  • Unhealthy diet.

The following protective factors can help prevent a heart attack:

  • Move.
  • Relaxation.
  • Live smoke-free.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Social security.
  • Flu shot.

Dr. Ashwani Kumar is highly skilled and experienced in treating major and minor general medicine diseases.