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Signs of Heart Attack in Women

Friday, February 10, 2023

male doctor checking woman patient heartbeat

Heart disease is the primary cause of death in the United States, with symptoms that vary based on gender. Heart attack symptoms often vary according to gender. Generally, men experience intense chest pain while women may often show much more subtle signs such as unusual fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Unfortunately, these signs are often disregarded until it is too late.

Heart Attack Rates Dropping, Yet Rising in Younger Population

Despite fewer heart attacks occurring in the U.S., due to medications and a decline in smoking, heart attacks are on the rise among young adults. A study conducted over a 16-year period revealed that the number of young people having a heart attack has increased by 2 percent over the last 10 years. Only about half of women recognize that heart disease is their number one killer, even with increased awareness over the past decades.

Do Hormones Play a Role in Heart Disease?

Since women often use prescription hormone drugs for birth control or other conditions, questions arise regarding whether hormones can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease.

For most young women, birth control is a safe medication. However, women with a family history of early heart disease or women who smoke are at heightened risk of blood clotting and other issues. Potential risks include heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots in the lung which is also known as a pulmonary embolus.

Doctors recommend women over the age of 50 avoid estrogen and progesterone drugs entirely, as they have a possibility of increasing the risk of developing heart disease and breast cancer. 

Heart Attack Risk Factors for Women

Several factors can increase the chance of developing heart disease. Almost 50% of all Americans have at least one of three major risk factors for the condition: 

  • High blood pressure: Women may have a genetic predisposition or dietary causes for hypertension. However, they can develop high blood pressure as a side effect of birth control pills or during pregnancy. Compared to men, women over 65 are more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol: Estrogen seems to protect women against unhealthy levels of cholesterol. After menopause, estrogen drops, women experience an increasing risk of high cholesterol.
  • Smoking: Although men are slightly more likely to smoke, the gap in cigarette usage between genders is smaller than ever and women are less likely to quit successfully.

Additional risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age (risk increases as you get older)
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Generally, chest pain or discomfort is the primary symptom of a heart attack for both men and women. However, women are more likely than men to have less recognizable heart attack symptoms such as:

  • Pain or discomfort in different parts of the upper body (back, neck, jaw, arms, or stomach)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cold sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

Steps to Prevent an Early Heart Attack

While some factors that affect heart health can be out of your control, there are also many ways to care for your heart. It’s estimated that 80% of heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes, can be prevented or reversed through lifestyle changes such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight increases your heart disease risk.
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet: Avoid processed foods and excess sugar. Eat a diet rich in whole, nutritious foods.
  • Exercising regularly: A consistent workout routine can boost your heart health.
  • Reducing alcohol: Women should limit alcohol consumption to only one drink a day.
  • Managing stress: There’s increasing evidence that shows you shouldn’t underestimate stress and its impact on heart health.
  • Getting an annual exam: Getting an annual checkup is the best way to stay on top of risk factors and receive help for conditions related to heart disease, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Making healthy decisions for your heart should be a priority at any age. Physicians at SouthCoast Health are eager to assist you in creating a personalized plan to help you achieve your health goals. Make an appointment online or call 912.691.3600 to learn more.

Whether you are looking for a primary care doctor or a pediatrician, or another medical specialist, SouthCoast Health has you covered with its wide range of world-class healthcare services, available throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. SouthCoast Health has 120 physicians and medical professionals in 18 locations in Savannah, Richmond Hill, Pooler, Rincon, Baxley, Hilton Head, Hinesville, and Statesboro. SouthCoast Health offers comprehensive medical services including: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Allergy and Asthma, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Eye Care, Imaging, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, Neurology, Physical Therapy, Podiatry, Sleep Medicine, Surgery, Clinical Trial Research Studies, Diabetic Self-Management Training Sessions, Dietetic Counseling, Laboratory Services, Massage Therapy, Optical Shop, Pharmacy, and Urgent Care.

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