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People Don’t Know These Heart Attack Symptoms

Women can have heart attacks without chest pain. That leads to dangerous delays.

Feb. 16, 2020 |

By Ersilia M. DeFilippis, MD

The Washington Post – “But, it’s not my heart. It’s not my heart,” my patient repeated to me. “It’s my stomach. Nothing is wrong with my heart.”

A few minutes earlier, I had rushed to the emergency room in response to an alert from my pager.

This pager was reserved for one specific occasion: Someone was concerned that a patient in the hospital was having a massive heart attack.

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When I reached the ER, I spotted an older woman looking uncomfortable.

Earlier that evening, she had developed pain just above her belly button. After a few hours, when her symptoms did not abate, her family brought her into the hospital to be evaluated. She was sweaty, nauseous and breathing heavily.

She never had chest pain. But even without that symptom, I was fairly certain she was having a heart attack.

Many people do not recognize the signs of a heart attack, especially in women. Lack of awareness can cause people to wait to come to the ER and potentially suffer damage to the heart.

She thought she had a 24-hour bug. What she really had almost killed her.

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Chest pain remains the most common symptom of a heart attack in men and women.

But women having a heart attack are more likely to have unusual symptoms — such as nausea, dizziness, pain around the belly button, feeling of heart racing, neck or arm pain — when compared with men.

They are also more likely than men to have a heart attack without chest pain. Furthermore, the incidence of heart disease and hospitalizations for heart attacks is rising in young women.

My patient had high blood pressure as well as diabetes, both risk factors for heart disease … Read more. 

Catch the signs early

American Heart Association – Don’t wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Download the common heart attack warning signs infographic (JPEG) | (PDF)

Symptoms vary between men and women

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain (angina) or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Learn about the warning signs of heart attack in women.

Watch video: “Just A Little Heart Attack” – a short film directed by and starring Elizabeth Banks

Don’t hesitate to call 911

Learn the signs for heart attack, and remember: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out.

Minutes matter. Fast action can save lives – maybe your own.

Call 911 if you experience heart attack warning signs. Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment.

An emergency medical services (EMS) team can begin treatment when they arrive – up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too.

For many reasons, it’s best to call 911 so that an experienced EMS team can begin treatment and arrange rapid transport to the emergency room.

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