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For some unknown reason, heart disease is often thought of as a “man’s disease.” However, in reality, heart disease is still the number one killer of women and is more deadly than any form of cancer. One of the biggest obstacles to reducing heart disease related deaths is a lack of awareness as to how heart attack symptoms are different for women than men.
Television and popular culture tend to depict heart attacks as a literal physical attack: a character will clutch at their chest, exhibit signs of being in pain and collapse. However, this level of dramatized reaction is less common for women, who are more likely to experience the more subtle signs of a heart attack than men. This can lead to women being more likely to brush off a serious cardiac event as just a minor health problem. (This video starring Elizabeth Banks is a powerful illustration of that.)
Here are the signs of a heart attack women should never ignore.
Even though women are more likely to experience alternate symptoms, chest pains are still their most common sign of a heart attack. However, the difference is that, while the majority of male heart attack sufferers report experiencing chest pain, women could have a heart attack without experiencing any chest pressure at all. Still, chest pain should never be ignored and always taken seriously, regardless of gender.
It’s not uncommon for women experiencing a heart attack to break out in a cold sweat, similar to the type of sweating that is caused by stress or anxiety. If you can’t determine another reason for the sweating – such as exercise, high temperatures or hot flashes – it could be an indicator that your body is in cardiac distress.
Excessive fatigue is a symptom more commonly associated with women heart attack sufferers and is often described as “tiredness in the chest.” This type of fatigue makes even the most minor of tasks seem difficult, like walking across the room or going to the bathroom. This could be coupled with a shortness of breath, nausea or feeling lightheaded. Fainting is also a common symptom for women.
While men are likely to experience upper body aches as well, it is a more common symptom in women’s heart attacks. The pain also might not be the expected sharp and intense pain commonly associated with heart attacks; it can be gradual and build up over time. A good rule of thumb is to see your doctor about any upper body pain that you can’t determine a cause for.
Since women’s heart attack symptoms are typically less obvious than men’s, it’s even more important to pay attention to your body and seek help if you think you may be having a heart attack. Being aware of what to expect can be the crucial difference between getting help in time and suffering a tragedy.
For a quick summary of the symptoms of heart attacks in men and women and what to do if someone you know experiences them, check out this infographic.