DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack could save a life.
Chest pain is the hallmark symptom of a heart attack but there are an array of other symptoms that can signal danger – especially for women.
Director of Cardiology at Miami Valley Hospital and Director of Cardiovascular Services at Premier Health, Dr. George Broderick says women are more likely to feel heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain.
“In the US, it’s the number one killer of both men and women,”
“In the US, it’s the number one killer of both men and women,” Dr. Broderick said. “More commonly, women can have atypical symptoms.”
Atypical symptoms that can be confused for the flu, anxiety, a stomach bug, or just feeling tired.
Natasha Luster cares for scores of patients in her job in the surgery suite at Miami Valley Hospital, but last summer the shoe was on the other foot.
“I just felt uneasy. Something wasn’t right,” Luster said. “It was in my chest. But at 37, you just don’t really think – and I’m a nurse.”
Luster, a nurse manager, had just finished a morning workout. At first, she thought the uneasy feeling could have been something else.
“It’s easy when the symptoms sound more classical – the pressure, heavy tightness,” Dr. Broderick said. “But other symptoms – shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, headache, really an exhausted sensation – you can’t explain it. And all of a sudden some doctor is telling you, ‘Hey you’re having a heart attack.'”
The American Heart Association says many women who’ve had heart attacks – experienced no chest symptoms.
Other symptoms include pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach and breaking out in a cold sweat.
After experiencing crushing chest pain, Luster wound up in the emergency room.
Doctors cleared the blockage in her heart with a stent: a tube that keeps arteries open. They gave her a big goal: stress management.
“It’s so important because one in three women are affected,” Luster said. “That’s one in three of our mothers, sisters, friends that are affected by this disease.”
She added: “As a mom, as a wife, as a nurse, as a manager sometimes you put everyone else before you. What I had to take away was really learning that balance.”
According to Premier Health, factors that increase your risk for a heart attack include:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- a sedentary lifestyle
- family history of heart disease
The American Heart Association says you can lower your risk of heart attack with lifestyle changes. Things that can help include:
- quitting smoking
- choosing a healthier diet
- being physically active
- reducing stress
- managing diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol
Luster and Dr. Broderick are also encouraging women and men to know their risk, with a heart CT scan, which can detect early or advanced heart disease by measuring the amount of calcium deposits in arteries.
Doctors say if you believe you’re having a heart attack, don’t wait, call 911 immediately.
The American Heart Association advises that if you experience any of the following, call 911 immediately, even if you aren’t sure whether you’re having a heart attack:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, tightness, fullness or pain (sometimes crushing) in your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, shoulders or stomach
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
- A feeling like severe heartburn
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, vomiting or lightheadedness
But some women in the throes of a heart attack have also experienced symptoms that are more subtle, including:
- Anxiety (feeling uneasy or worried)
- Indigestion (upset stomach)
- Problems breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Unusual tiredness
You can learn more information about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack for women by going to the Premier Health website.