According to the American Heart Association, heart disease accounts for 1 in 7 deaths in the United States. Taken together with stroke, these diseases claim more lives each year than all forms of cancer and lung disease combined, according to the heart association.
Part of the reason there are still so many deaths is that sometimes people don’t realize they are having a heart attack until it’s too late. In addition, there can be some significant differences in symptoms of a heart attack for women — and they aren’t as well known.
More than 800,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, and about half have early symptoms, but ignored them (American College of Cardiology). According to a 2016 behavioral risk factor survey, 4 percent of Thurston County adults have experienced a heart attack. If you have symptoms, getting help fast is important because the majority of damage to the heart happens in the first two hours after a heart attack.
While men are more likely than women to have a heart attack, there’s also been a lot more research about heart attacks in men. Common symptoms might include:
- Chest pain — often described as heavy pressure, like an elephant sitting on your chest, or squeezing that can come and go, or become constant and intense.
- Pain or discomfort in the upper body that travels to your arms, left shoulder, back, neck, or jaw.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat.
- Stomach discomfort (similar to indigestion).
- Shortness of breath.
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling like you might pass out.
- Cold sweats.
For women, there are some additional symptoms to watch for, including:
- Unusual fatigue that lasts for multiple days — or sudden severe fatigue.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Jaw pain.
- Nausea or vomiting.
It’s also important to realize that women over the age of 50, or those entering menopause, have a higher likelihood of heart attack because of dropping levels of the hormone estrogen.
Unfortunately, many people hesitate to call for help, perhaps because they’re not certain about what they’re experiencing. Base your decisions on what feels normal, or abnormal, to you. If you haven’t experienced similar symptoms before, get help.
There’s a great video made by the heart association to help people recognize some of the symptoms as they happen — just enter “AHA Just a little heart attack” into the internet search bar.
In fact, according to Duke University Medical Center, as many as 200,000 Americans have heart attacks without even knowing it. These “silent” heart attacks are more likely to occur in people who have had heart attacks already, or who have diabetes. Symptoms of this kind of heart attack can include:
- Discomfort in your chest, arms or jaw.
- Shortness of breath.
- Sleep disturbances or fatigue.
- Stomach pain or heartburn.
- Skin clamminess.
If you’re not sure of your risk for heart attack and heart disease, or if you have concerns about symptoms you may have, talk to your health provider. If you see someone you think might be having a heart attack, call 911 and offer to help. Knowing what to look for may just save a life.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.