The word, “Heart” is an Old English word meaning “the central, vital or main part, or the core.” Women often regard their hearts as the seat of their emotions and the location of their innermost thoughts and feelings. The heart is often considered to be the center of love, sympathy, and grief or sorrow.
Heart attack (or myocardial infarction) symptoms are often very different for women than men. Scientists are not sure why this happens, but it is important to know the differences because early treatment of a heart attack can save a woman’s life. Women’s symptoms of heart attack can be much more subtle and easily overlooked or attributed to “usual” aches and pains. Symptoms of heart attack in both men and women include:
Squeezing, heavy chest pain that may be associated with exercise, cold weather, a large meal, or stress
Pain in the left shoulder, arm or jaw
Shortness of breath
Sweating, clammy skin
Feeling of panic or impending doom
Denial that there is anything wrong
Some women mistakenly think that the only symptom of heart attack is crushing chest pain. In fact, sometimes a woman has no chest pain at all. Women have been found to have the following symptoms at a higher rate than men:
Shortness of breath – 58 percent of women reported this as their only symptom when having a heart attack
Weakness or unusual, often extreme fatigue – 50 percent of women reported this symptom, sometimes in combination with shortness of breath
Indigestion or upper abdominal pain – 43 percent of women experiencing a heart attack have “heart burn” that may be thought to be related to gall bladder disease or certain foods
Lower chest pain
If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 911 without delay. It is also wise to talk to your doctor before such an event might occur to find out if it is recommended that you take an aspirin tablet if you experience symptoms of a heart attack.
The American Heart Association recently revealed some surprising advice for women to help them prevent heart disease. There is continued support for a healthy life style that includes this 7-step approach:
Maintain a healthy weight
Devote 150 minutes to moderate exercise each week
Eat a healthy diet
Manage your blood pressure
Keep your blood pressure in check
Manage your blood glucose (sugar) levels
These seven steps also have the added advantage of decreasing chances of dementia as women age.
The American Heart Association also found a direct correlation of heart disease to stress. Women who work in high-pressure jobs but do not have the ability to make decisions about their work or experience other conflict at work have a 40 percent higher risk of a heart attack. New York University found that experiencing the death of a loved one increases the risk of heart attacks in women during the first six months after the loss occurs. Women who begin to exhibit symptoms of stress or deep grief from life-events may need to seek help in managing their stress from a professional in order to mend their “broken heart.” Start by talking to your doctor.
Johns Hopkins University has found a link between Vitamin D deficiency and heart disease. Harvard researchers found that light to moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages is associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
Does this mean you should start taking vitamin or herbal supplements or having a drink or two a day? Not without talking to your doctor first. Women taking supplements who do not report these medications to their doctors may inadvertently face side effects from the medications the physician prescribes. Alcohol can interfere with many medications and may be contraindicated for some women. Always discuss these details with your physician.
Many women have spent their lives caring about the health of others and sharing their hearts with their families, friends, and even strangers. Start now to keep your heart strong and healthy. Remember that it is never too early or too late to change your life style.
Susan Spoelma, MBA, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, is the Chief Nursing Officer for Oak Valley Hospital. Look for the Health Watch column each month in The Oakdale Leader and periodically in The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times.