Whenever a person feels chest pain, we start looking for signs that it could be a heart attack. The questions start pouring in – which side is the pain on? Do you feel it in your arms?
But these apparent symptoms are not the only way in which heart attack can manifest in people. Especially in women, heart disease and its related symptoms go undetected due to lack of awareness.
While some of these telltale signs are common to all, it might also be accompanied by other symptoms such as back pain, shoulder pain or nausea in women.
Coronary heart disease causes around 23% of the total deaths in the nation and continues to be on the rise. The heart attack signs are obvious in men and well known – sudden chest pain and cold sweats. But in women, the attacks are smaller and frequent – the symptoms are much more subtle than what is observed in men. Many don’t even realize what their body is going through until it’s too late.
But better awareness about the symptoms and seeking help at the right time can prevent a lot of serious cases.
Keep reading to know why the symptoms look different in women, exactly what it looks like in them and how they can manage their heart health better.
Why do heart conditions look different in women
While heart conditions are equally prevalent in men and women, the focus of prevention and awareness has been on men. As a result, the number of cases has decreased in men, and the numbers have increased among women.
There are several reasons why heart conditions may look different in women. The usual risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity are risk factors for everyone.
But in women, additional factors like hormones to high-stress levels, all play their due role.
The most important reason that heart conditions look different in women, according to experts, is a change in the way their coronary arteries become blocked. In the case of men, the larger arteries develop blockages, which can cause apparent symptoms and is easier to be scanned. But in the case of women, the blockages often occur in smaller blood vessels. While this condition can still cause chest pain and discomfort, it is overlooked because the larger arteries appear normal on testing.
The presence of estrogen hormone also plays a role in regulating the development of heart conditions. When menopause occurs and the presence of this hormone is reduced, the chance for developing blockages in small vessels in the heart goes up.
The common knowledge is that heart conditions arise in mid-forties, but this is only the case in men. The presence of estrogen delays the development of heart conditions by 7-10 years and this can often catch women unawares. They’re often less prepared in changing their lifestyle or getting the professional help they need. This can significantly affect the management of their condition.
Some other factors that affect women differently are:
- Diabetes – Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men. The fact that diabetes changes how you feel pain also increases the chance for silent heart attacks.
- Mental stress – Women are often at a higher risk for their stress and depression affecting their heart. Going through depression also makes it harder for some to follow a healthy routine and increase the risk.
- Inactivity – Statistically, women tend to be less active than men and this can also contribute to the risk for heart disease.
- Pregnancy complications – those who’ve gone through high BP or diabetes during pregnancy are more affected by long term risks for diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease.
The above-mentioned risk factors can severely affect a woman’s chance of developing heart problems later in life. But it’s not just older women who can develop it. Those with a genetic predisposition to heart conditions can develop it at any time. But if they actively keep these factors in mind and learn to look out for the symptoms, they can do a lot to better manage their heart health.
What are the most common signs of a heart attack in women?
While the risk factors are easy enough to understand, the manifestation of heart diseases in women are much more complex. The symptoms may range from obvious ones like chest pain or discomfort to nausea and sleep disturbances. The following are some of the symptoms that women need to especially look out for:
- Nausea, vomiting, dizziness and lightheadedness
- Unusual and extreme fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
- Unusual sweating
- Pain in the neck, jaw or back in addition to arm or chest
Most of these symptoms are indicative of a silent heart attack which often goes unnoticed. Knowing what to look out for can go a long way in helping women better prevent dangerous cases of silent heart attacks and to better manage their heart conditions.
What can women do better to take care of their hearts?
Equipped with knowledge about the causes of silent heart attacks and what symptoms to look out for, women can work on improving their lifestyle choices. Some things they can start by doing are no brainers like exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet filled with whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lean meats. Avoiding saturated fats, added sugars and large amounts of salt can also go a long way in improving a woman’s wellbeing.
Vices like smoking and drinking can make the blood vessels damaged slowly. So getting ahead of the problem and changing your habits can help in preventing further complications. Staying true to the doctor’s treatment plan to manage other conditions like blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can also help reduce the risk of heart complications in women.
Stress is also a huge factor that can affect a woman’s heart. From depression and work stress to broken heart syndrome, mental stress needs to be managed effectively through meditation or other coping mechanisms.
The final thought…
When it comes to conditions like heart problems, staying informed and using this knowledge to make changes can go a long way. Awareness and preventive knowledge are the best tools to effectively handle silent heart attacks. Knowing what can help in managing these conditions can empower women to pay more attention to their health, and get checked more often. Regular tracking of blood vitals, managing diet and exercise, and following any prescribed treatments can also help women in avoiding silent heart attacks.
At the end of the day, knowledge and its effective usage can help doctors to provide preventive care that can save lives.
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