The UC San Diego Cardiovascular Center “goes red” in support of women’s heart health.
What women need to know about heart attacks: three questions for our heart expert
Thanks in large part to popular television, everyone thinks they know the signs of heart attack: a sudden pain in the chest accompanied by a numbness in the arm and gasping breath. But these are the typical signs of heart attack in men. For women, it’s a very different, sometimes more subtle story.
According the American Heart Association, “more than one in three women is living with CVD (cardiovascular disease),” and it remains the number one killer of women in the United States. We’ve asked Pam Taub, MD, FACC, assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine three questions about how signs of heart attack in women differ from those in men.
Question: What are some signs or symptoms women need to pay attention to that might indicate a heart attack?
Answer: Heart disease is the number one killer of women and the symptoms are often unrecognized at the early stages. Women often do not have the classic symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain. Women tend to have “atypical symptoms” such as sweating, nausea, fullness in the stomach or reflux symptoms, abdominal pain, jaw pain, and shortness of breath. Women in the perimenopausal period often confuse these symptoms for menopause related symptoms.
Q: Can women experience the well-known sudden chest pain and arm numbness or is that really a male manifestation of heart attack?
A: There are some women who do have the classic symptoms of heart attack, such as sudden chest pain with arm numbness but many do not have these symptoms. There are males that can also have atypical symptoms but it is more often seen in women. These atypical symptoms are often seen in both men and women with diabetes who often do not manifest classic chest pain.
Q: If a woman is experiencing any of these symptoms, what should she do? Can taking an aspirin help?
A: If she is having any of these symptoms she should seek medical attention promptly. If the symptoms are severe and worsening she should call 911 and go to the emergency room. Taking aspirin can help and should be done as soon as symptoms occur.