The symptoms of a heart attack differ between men and women, so during American Heart month, get in the know to save your life or that of someone you love.
February may be best known for hearts filled with chocolate or valentines inscribed with expressions of undying love. But during this American Heart Month, there are other kinds of hearts that need attention, too. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States - and the third leading cause of death among women ages 25 to 44.
Given these sobering statistics, it makes sense to know the warning signs of a possible heart attack, which differ between men and women. While chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, not everyone experiences it. In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, fewer than 30 percent of women reported having chest pain or discomfort prior to their heart attacks, and 43 percent reported having no chest pain during any phase of the attack.
Studies suggest that more women than men experience "atypical" symptoms such as back pain, nausea or fatigue. What's more, it's becoming evident that women's symptoms are not as predictable as men's, making it harder to recognize a heart attack when it is imminent or even underway.
Prior to an attack, major symptoms can include, in descending order of frequency: unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance, shortness of breath and anxiety. Additional symptoms, including weakness, cold sweat and dizziness, reappear at different frequencies during an attack. In particular, shortness of breath appears to be a more common symptom in women than in men both prior to and during a heart attack.
Although these symptoms can be common in daily life, the same research found that women who had heart attacks tended to look back and remember the development or intensification of these symptoms as early as a month before the attack. Doctors suggest that this means they could serve as early warning signs that an attack is imminent.
It may be difficult to predict a heart attack, but the ways to reduce your risk of one are well known. Risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and alcohol use. Even small changes in lifestyle, such as a more active commute, have been shown to reduce your risk.
The American Heart Association created the Go Red for Women campaign and National Wear Red Day on Feb. 4 to raise awareness of women and heart disease. To learn more and find events in your area, visit goredforwomen.org.
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