Would You Know If You Were Having a Heart Attack?

Most women don't, and what you don't know could kill you.
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Know the Symptoms

If you think you're too young for a heart attack, you need to confront the scary truth: Every year about 40,000 American women under age 55 are hospitalized for heart disease, and 16,000 of them die. What's more, younger women's heart attacks are fatal twice as often as men's. In fact, women who are 35 to 44 are the only Americans whose coronary heart disease mortality is rising (by 1.3 percent a year), according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Yet heart disease just isn't on most women's radar, even women who have risk factors that make this kind of health crisis much more likely. Our symptoms can also be so different from what we expect a heart attack to feel like that it's easy to miss what's really going on and delay getting medical care, which might be a deadly mistake. To have the best chance of survival and full recovery, treatment needs to start within 90 minutes of the onset of the attack. Taking the following steps before the ambulance arrives could save your life.

Know the Symptoms A heart attack isn't always excruciatingly painful. A majority of male and female heart attack survivors told University of Rochester researchers in a 2007 study that there was less discomfort than they would have expected. Women often don't have the classic symptoms, says Jennifer H. Mieres, MD, director of nuclear cardiology and associate professor of medicine at New York University Medical Center. "Instead of chest pain, you may feel pressure, as if somebody were pushing on the inside of your chest, or you may have pain or unusual sensations somewhere other than your chest, such as your upper abdomen, the left side of your back, your shoulder, even your jaw," Dr. Mieres says. "One woman's teeth hurt and she had numbness in her mouth along with fullness in her chest. Some women also get a cold, clammy feeling or a sense that something's badly wrong. Or your only symptom may be unusual shortness of breath, so you're huffing and puffing during mild exertion that doesn't usually bother you, or feel that you can't get enough air."

Most younger women (55 or under) who have heart attacks don't recognize any of the warning signs, Yale University researchers reported in May. Many had so-called atypical symptoms, such as sudden onset of fatigue, nausea, and weakness, which are more likely to strike women than men. But even though 88 percent also had some chest pain, a leading heart attack symptom in both sexes, only 42 percent thought it was their heart. Others blamed heartburn or indigestion, which feel similar. Recognizing symptoms that might be a heart attack -- and realizing you could be vulnerable -- is key to survival.

Continued on page 2:  Call 911 Immediately

 

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