Heart Attack Symptoms: Men and Women are Different by Sharon Fillyaw

When we think of a heart attack, one commonly conjures the usual television depiction of a man clutching his heart and dramatically falling to the floor. Of course, this is not always the case. In fact one can have a cardiac incident without realizing it or mistaking the symptoms for another innocuous ailment like indigestion.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximatley 720,000 Americans annually will suffer a heart attack. “Heart Attack” is a generic term; the actual medical definition is myocardial infarction or “MI”. When you have a heart attack, heart muscle dies. This is why it is very important to take measures to treat current heart issues and prevent subsequent cardiac events.

According the the American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs when the heart cannot keep up with the blood demands of the body. This is why a normally sedentary individual (especially seniors) should never, ever, jump into a strenuous activity like shoveling snow, running long distances, moving furniture or lifting heavy items, unless your body has incrementally acclimated and adjusted to the activity over time; not doing so is a recipe for a cardiac disaster.

Heart Attacks affect both women and men, however women may have very different symptoms that are unfortunately often ignored.

According to the Mayo Clinic Heart Attack Symptoms in Men include:

Chest Tightness – a “squeezing” sensation (this may come and go)



Light Headedness

Profuse Sweating (diaphoresis) with cold skin

Pain in the left arm (The nerve (Phrenic C 3,4,5) that innervates the heart also stimulates the left arm)

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women: (which can occur WITHOUT chest pain)

Chest Pain (only occurs in approximately 40% of cases)

Jaw Pain

Back Pain

Shoulder Pain

Unexplained fatigue lasting days

Nausea/Iindigestion – a heart attack can damage the nerves for both the heart and the stomach; a heart attack can mimic indigestion behind the heart.

Shortness of Breath During Sedentary Activities -for example, you are sitting in a chair and suddenly experience an extreme loss of breath.

Sweating and Anxiety: Out of nowhere you suddenly experience profuse sweating (diaphoresis) and anxiety.

If you feel as if something is not “quite right”; don’t ignore your gut. According to Malissa J. Wood, M.D. Director of the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at Masschusetts General Hospital, “Women have intuition and should use it , it can save their lives” (Huffington Post 2013)

Contact the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at Mass General(Call 866-644-8910) for more information on heart attacks, early detection and care that is specific to women. You may also use this same number to speak to an outpatient access nurse.

For both men and women, heart attacks can be very intense or have mild symptoms that occur over time; listen to your body. Most importantly, work with your physician, listen and be compliant with your treatment. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure your doctor may advise you to increase your brisk walking or to take an exercise class in conjunction with a nonpresciption medication regimen like aspirin. You may need to take prescription medications that will help stabilize your condition; whatever is indicated for your situation take your meds on time and try not to miss a dose. Commit to attend your scheduled appointments and always tell you doctor if you notice any changes.

The CDC estimates that 47% of heart attack deaths occurs outside the hospital. If you or a loved one is in cardiac distress ACT QUICKLY, call 911 FIRST. If you are assisting a victim, dial 911, place the call on speaker, even before the operator answers, place the phone next to the victim and get back to adminstering aid. If you don’t have access to emergency personnel drive the victim to the nearest emergency room. I encourage you to take CPR/AED classes at your local Red Cross; it a gift that you want to give but hope you never need to.

Remember, the best defense to a heart attacks is prevention: get regular checkups, eat healthy and stay active with exercise!! A future column will address the more specific precursors/ causes of heart attack and stroke and ways to help combat them, so look for it!.

Be sure to watch Sharon’s Full Body and Fitness Workout on Comcast Channel’s 3,15 and 22; Verizon Channel’s 24, 26 and 28. Mondays at 10a.m. and Tuesday’s at 6:30p.m.

I also intstruct Advanced Core and Balance for Seniors at the Malden Senior Center call 781-391-7144 for details.

Remember to take care of yourself and….Live Healthy!!

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