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What does a heart attack feel like? What are the subtle signs of heart attack you need to watch out for?
Years ago, one of my neighbors experienced severe pain in the abdominal region. She dismissed it as a bloating or gut issue. This went on for a while until she finally died of heart failure. Had she known it was a symptom of heart attack, she might still be alive.
According to 2017 stats, every 1 in 5 US women dies of heart failure. With each passing year, the numbers are increasing.
As a woman, you must do everything to minimize the risks of heart diseases. This starts with following a healthy lifestyle and going for yearly heart health screenings.
Next, you should know about the most dangerous symptoms of heart attack in women. This will help you stay alert and visit a doctor ASAP if you notice anything risky.
So today, I’ll share the most common 10 early warning signs of female heart attack that you need to look out for.
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- What is a Heart Attack?
- Why Should You Take Heart Attack Seriously?
- What Causes Heart Attack?
- What are the Types of Heart Attacks?
- Silent Signs of Heart Attack in Women
- Do the Signs of Heart Attack Change With Age?
- How Do You Prevent A Heart Attack?
What is a Heart Attack?
Heart diseases are among the top causes of female deaths in the US.
But exactly what is a heart attack?
You already know we have a network of arteries and veins spread throughout the body. Arteries take blood from the heart to the organs and muscles while veins bring the blood back to the heart.
Similarly, your heart also has a mesh of arteries. The blood pumps through these vessels, keeping your heart alive and working.
But sometimes, the heart arteries become blocked and unable to allow proper blood flow. This may happen because of fat deposits, plaque development, or a blood clot in the blood vessels.
Naturally, the blood circulation within the heart muscles stops, killing the tissue. This leads to a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI).
Why Should You Take Heart Attack Seriously?
I’m going to get pretty honest with you for a sec.
Coronary diseases are one of the leading causes of female deaths in the US. But despite the alarming numbers, only 56% of women in the country realize this.
For African American, Asian, & Hispanic women, heart attacks are as dangerous as cancers!
But sadly, there’s a general lack of awareness in women about heart conditions.
And this is even bigger concern for women living in underdeveloped countries, like South Asian nations.
Needless to say, there’s no better time than now to start prioritizing your heart health.
Arm yourself with facts and knowledge so you can fight the rising risk of cardiovascular diseses in women.
What Causes Heart Attack?
You’ll agree when I say knowing the causes is more important than learning about the symptoms of heart blockage in women.
Heart attacks in females occur for many reasons.
For starters, we experience immense stress daily. It ain’t easy balancing personal life, career, home, and kids — together!
But studies show that long-term stress is one of the biggest causes of heart attacks in women.
It will affect your eating habits, hormone levels, and blood pressure and raise the risk of coronary diseases.
We’re also not paying attention to our diets.
Eating unhealthy junk foods will definitely show some symptoms of heart blockage in females later on. High cholesterol and hypertension are owed to consuming rich fatty foods.
And let’s not forget the lack of physical activities. Another major cause of a sudden spike in heart conditions.
So all in all, leading a healthy lifestyle = reduced risk of silent signs of heart attack in women.
What are the Types of Heart Attacks?
You might experience any of the following 4 types of heart attacks:
This is the most dangerous form of heart attack caused when the main artery in your heart gets blocked and stops blood flow.
The damage from NSTEMI is comparatively less than STEMI but it’s still quite risky. It occurs when your arteries are partially blocked.
- Coronary Artery Spasm
Also known as unstable angina, luckily, this type of heart attack doesn’t cause lasting damage.
Sometimes, one of your heart arteries might suddenly constrict and become narrow because of a plaque deposit. As a result, there may be a brief period when the blood flow in the heart stops and causes muscle spasms.
Although it isn’t deadly, it’s still one of the early warning signs of heart attack in women.
This is a mini heart attack. Ischemia is rarely intense and instead, shows various symptoms of heart diseases over some time.
Silent Signs of Heart Attack in Women
If you’re like me with a history of heart diseases in your family, every little sign of chest pain stresses you out.
With each weird muscle pain in your arms, you think to yourself, “Am I having a heart attack?”
I know it’s super scary.
But today, I’m here to dispel the myths and give it to you straight: the most common silent signs of heart attack in women you need to know about.
Let’s get started.
1. Difficulty in breathing
Feeling short of breath for no apparent reason is among the early warning signs of female heart attack.
Shortness of breath is common if you’ve just run up several stairs or finished exercising. COPD patients with lung diseases also experience breathing problems.
But if you notice sudden difficulty in breathing without performing any vigorous activity, then it may be a symptom of heart blockage.
According to a 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal, obese women with cardiovascular issues are more likely to experience shortness of breath as compared to others.
The same research also linked frequent breathing problems every week to women with heart diseases.
This goes to show that difficulty in breathing is a serious warning sign of heart attack in females, especially those over 40 years.
At this point, you might be wondering: how to know if your shortness of breath is related to a heart attack?
Well, look out for accompanying signals such as chest pain or tiredness.
If you notice other symptoms of heart blockage as well, then it’s most likely a cardiovascular issue and needs your attention.
Find out here.
#heartattack #hearthealth #womenshealth
2. Pain in the upper region
Upper body pain is also one of the early silent signs of heart attacks in women.
Research by NIH discovered that almost 60 to 68% of women experience chest pain before a heart attack. The same study also found that elderly women are less likely to feel chest pain than middle-aged females.
Commonly women experience sudden jaw pain that spreads toward the neck and shoulders, indicating an underlying heart problem.
Stinging aches might also occur in:
- Upper back
- Middle back
One of the most common warning signs of female heart attack is a pain in either arms or chest.
You might feel extreme pressure or squeeze in the right or left arm for more than 1 to 10 minutes.
The chest pain feels like an elephant is sitting on top of you. This is often accompanied by difficulty in breathing.
The pain associated with heart attack usually comes and goes. However, you can differentiate it from the usual aches by noticing:
- How long it lasts for
- The intensity level of your pain: is it dull or stinging?
- If the ache is radiating from top to the lower region (such as toward wrists)
- If you have any other heart attack signs as well (such as sweating)
The moment you feel any of these symptoms of heart blockage, visit a doctor as soon as possible.
3. Lower body aches
Pain in the lower abdominal region is also one of the earliest silent signs of heart attack in women.
After affecting the upper region, the aches radiate downward from the chest to other adjacent regions. This includes:
- Lower back
Sadly a lot of women don’t pay attention to leg pain which is a hidden sign of cardiovascular problems.
At times, plaque develops in the blood arteries that carry blood from the heart to the legs. This condition is called Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). This may result in dull leg aches.
If left untreated, you might eventually become at risk of a heart attack.
According to Andy Lee, an instructor at the Harvard Medical School:
“People wouldn’t necessarily think that sore legs are related to heart disease. But if leg arteries are blocked, it’s likely that coronary arteries are blocked as well. Left untreated, PAD can potentially increase a person’s risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack. It is also a leading cause of limb amputation.”
Many women also mistake abdominal discomfort with bloating or acid reflux. But this one assumption might cost you your life!
Lower back pain often starts from the upper back and reaches downward gradually. Notice if you feel other symptoms of heart blockage as well, to judge whether it’s serious or not.
4. Heart palpitations
More than often, heart palpitations are one of the major symptoms of a mini-heart attack in women.
If you notice a crazy level of heart-fluttering other than any underlying condition (such as cardiac arrhythmia), then it’s another silent sign of heart attack in women.
These palpitations may feel like:
- Fluttering heart
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- Fast pounding
You should also lookout for the accompanying heart attack indicators such as chest pain, dizziness, sudden jaw pain, sweating, etc. All these symptoms of heart blockage in females along with heart palpitations mean something’s wrong.
You could try easing them by laying down and drinking water. If that doesn’t stop the heart fluttering, seek help ASAP.
5. Sleepless nights
It’s common knowledge that lack of sleep can affect your heart health.
Dr. Susan Redline, a professor at Harvard Medical School, confirms, “Well-run observational studies have connected poor sleep with poor cardiovascular outcomes and identified the pathways through which the damage occurs.”
If you suffer from sleep apnea or insomnia, the risk of heart attack is doubled.
However, the danger goes both ways.
Sometimes, subtle silent signs of heart attack in women can keep them up at night. You may be unable to fall asleep and spend most of your time tossing and turning in bed.
In a study published by the American Heart Association in 2003, almost 50% of women claimed they experienced sleep disturbances for at least a month before a heart attack.
This is pretty alarming!
So if you have any unusual sleep problems mentioned below, I’d advise you to consult a doctor.
- Difficulty in falling asleep
- Chest pain or other symptoms of heart blockage while resting
- Tiredness even after a proper night’s snooze
- Waking up frequently
6. Extreme tiredness
Although it may be inadvertently related to sleeplessness, extreme fatigue could also be among the early silent signs of heart attack in women.
A study by AHA discovered that 70% of women notice unexplained lethargy a month before a heart attack.
If you also notice sleepiness or experience difficulty in breathing with tiredness, these symptoms indicate a cardiovascular issue.
This is caused by the unusually high stress on your heart to pump blood efficiently despite the blood clot attempting to reduce blood flow. Naturally, it’ll lead to internal exhaustion.
In any case, it’s best to discuss these symptoms of heart blockage with your doctor to figure out the next plan of action.
7. Profuse sweating
Here’s another warning sign of female heart attack — excessive sweating.
Sweating is caused if you live in a hot climate region or have a fever. You’d also feel wet right after a hardcore exercise routine.
But if you suddenly start breaking into cold sweats and feel clammy for no reason, it may be a cause of concern. This usually means an underlying cardiovascular problem.
Women over 40 or those who’re perimenopausal also frequently experience night sweats. A 2020 research recently discovered a link between night sweating in menopausal women and a higher risk of heart attacks.
If sweating is accompanied by other symptoms of female heart blockage, it may be one of those early silent signs of heart attack in women that need your instant attention.
8. Headaches and dizziness
Although headaches and dizziness aren’t sure-fire warning signs of female heart attack, still you might want to be alert if it occurs with other symptoms.
I explained earlier that you might notice severe pain in the head or face radiating below toward the torso. So severe stinging headaches can also be one of the possible silent signs of heart attack in women.
In a study published in 2016, a 70-year-old woman with chronic headaches disease. However, one afternoon, her headache was unusually intense and lasted longer than normal. She described the pain as dull squeezing, radiating in different head regions.
When no medications eased her pain, a cardiologist was called for consultation. They then discovered a constriction in one of the heart’s arteries.
In short, headaches are one of the not-so-silent signs of heart attacks in women that often get overlooked.
Additionally, other symptoms could accompany if the condition gets worse, such as:
If any of these symptoms of heart blockage in females appear, the best solution is to visit a doctor ASAP!
9. Lack of appetite
Another important early sign of female heart attack is a sudden loss of appetite. In fact, it’s one of the last symptoms indicating that you’ve cardiovascular issues.
Time to visit a doc!
The University of Vienna made an interesting related discovery in 2012.
Before a heart attack, the organ is under pressure to pump blood effectively throughout the body. But because of an arterial blood clot, the heart is unable to perform its function.
Researchers found that this leads to the release of a heart hormone called BNP in high amounts.
BNP contains agents that suppress hunger. As a result, because of the improper function of the heart, you might suddenly lose appetite and experience weight loss.
10. Nausea or vomiting
Digestive disturbance, nausea, and puking are all the last stage silent signs of heart attack in women that should never be ignored.
Because of the heart hormone BNP, a fluid layer forms around the digestive organs, typically the liver and intestines. As a result, you may notice changes in your gut health such as not feeling hungry, rapid weight loss, inability to digest, and even nausea or vomiting.
In case you notice any of these symptoms of female heart blockage, it’s time to set up an appointment with a doc.
Do the Signs of Heart Attack Change With Age?
After you hit menopause, your body goes through a variety of changes. The hormone imbalance, night sweats, hot flushes, mood irritability, and constant stress further raises the risk of heart diseases.
But most importantly, the silent signs of heart attack in women over 40 are slightly different from younger women.
For example, they are less likely to experience chest pain as a symptom of heart blockage. Instead, they’d experience:
- Heart palpitations
- Sudden jaw pain
- Severe headaches
- Constant leg pain
- Intense sweating
How Do You Prevent A Heart Attack?
Can a heart attack be avoided?
There’s no black and white answer. Following a healthy lifestyle is the key to staying safe from symptoms of heart attack.
Here are a few health tips you could try to avoid :
- Exercise daily:
A regular fitness routine is a foundation of staying healthy. At a minimum, start with a daily brisk walk. Step out, breathe in the fresh air, use those muscles, and get active.
- Eat nutritious meals:
Include more veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean meat (including skinless chicken and fish), lentils, and low-fat dairy items in your diet. Cut down on added sugars, processed products, and foods with high trans/saturated fats.
- Manage your stress levels:
Practice self-care daily to prevent excessive stress. Start journaling, aromatherapy, afternoon bath, art therapy, or music therapy to get rid of anxiety.
- Reduce your alcohol intake:
Alcohol addiction is among the major causes of heart blockage in females. Only drink occasionally or limit to one drink per day.
- Avoid smoking:
Seriously, quit smoking! It causes more harm than good, particularly to your respiratory system and arteries. Smoking is the leading cause of plaque formation, which results in several silent signs of heart attack in women.
Did you find this info useful? I hope you learned the many warning signs of female heart attacks that are often missed.
Do you have any daily healthy practices to reduce heart attack in your body? Share with me in the comments below.