How heart attack symptoms are different from women to men

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and that means heart attacks will affect approximately 735,000 Americans this year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there are certainly things cardiologists say you should avoid to lower your chances, heart disease may be genetic or difficult to avoid. Some risk factors are out of your control.

One of the most important lines of defense against a heart attack is awareness of symptoms. Up until recently, it was believed that women and men had identical, or at least very similar, symptoms. But more recent research has revealed that there are some alarming differences in the experiences of both sexes. While men's symptoms are widely discussed and warned against, some of the medical experiences unique to women are not. As a result, many women are underprepared when a heart attack does strike. They may miss early warning signs or mistake symptoms for something else. In order to best prepare yourself and your family, read on to learn about the ways in which heart attacks are different between women and men.

Heart attack symptoms vary

Men and women experience different symptoms of a heart attack, but individual women may have different symptoms and experiences as well. The type and severity of the heart attack trigger, as well as other environmental factors, can all influence the symptoms a person exhibits.

Early symptoms

In both men and women, early detection can drastically increase the likelihood of surviving a heart attack. According to the American College of Cardiology, around half of people who suffer from a heart attack experience early symptoms. Though there isn't much distinction yet between which are more common early symptoms for women as opposed to men, the most common overall include chest pain and shortness of breath.

Men are more likely to experience heart attacks

There are some preventable risk factors for heart attacks, such as smoking and lack of activity. But your biology also plays a role. According to research from 2016, men may be up to two times more likely to have a heart attack than women. However, women still need to stay informed of the symptoms; heart attacks are responsible for 33 percent of deaths for both sexes.

Women are more likely to die from heart attacks

Though heart attacks are more common in men, a woman having a heart attack is more likely to die than a man experiencing the same. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that women were up to three times more likely to die after a serious heart attack. Additionally, a recent study revealed that women are even more likely to die from a heart attack if their doctor is male.

Heart attack awareness is lower in women

Awareness of the risk of heart attacks is historically much lower in women than men. The American Heart Association launched a campaign to combat this disparity called Go Red for Women, and it appears to be making an impact. In 1997, just 30 percent of women were aware that heart disease was the No. 1 killer in the United States. By 2012, this number rose to 56 percent.

Women are more likely to delay seeking treatment

Whether or not this is due to awareness of symptoms is unclear, but women often wait much longer before seeking treatment when experiencing a heart attack. According to a study from 2018, women wait approximately 37 minutes longer than men to call for help. This could reduce the chances of survival.

Classic symptoms of a heart attack

Most of the heart attack symptoms people know about are the ones that are more prevalent in men than women, though are experienced by both sexes. These symptoms include sudden chest pain or pressure; discomfort of the arms, shoulder, back, neck or jaw; rapid or irregular heartbeat; sweating; dizziness; and shortness of breath.

The most common symptom

For both women and men, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. This chest pain may be sudden (a heart-clutching pain, as most people picture when thinking of a heart attack) or irregular. Chest pain related to a heart attack may even occur early on, sometimes intermittently. Chest pain may even come and go for a few days before the actual event. However, not everyone experiences this symptom while having a heart attack. A greater proportion of women than men who experience heart attacks have symptoms besides chest pain.

Other symptoms more common in women

It is more common for a woman to experience other symptoms of an unhealthy heart beyond chest pain while having a heart attack than it is for men. If you are not aware of the other symptoms, this could lead you to delay or fail to seek treatment. The American Heart Association says that for women, the most common of these other symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain. However, there are other potential warning signs that are less common. These include unexplained fatigue, sleep disturbance, anxiety, lightheadedness, indigestion or gassiness and a sense of impending doom.

Menopause and heart attacks

For women over 50, the risk of a heart attack dramatically increases. It is widely thought that this is due to menopause and its effect on blood vessels. After menopause, women's blood vessels become thinner. In fact, early menopause has also been associated with a higher risk of heart attack according to some studies. Once you experience menopause, talk with your doctor about changing your routine to take extra steps to prevent heart problems. Until you can get individualized advice, it may be wise to start doing these things that cardiologists say are best for your heart.

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