The Ladylike Symptoms of Heart Attack

When researchers recently asked nearly 60 women who’d survived heart attacks whether they’d known the warning signs beforehand, more than half said that they hadn’t. (Presented at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s annual meeting, Apr 1999).

To top it off, two-thirds singled out cancer as the leading cause of death in women — even though heart disease is a bigger risk for women than all cancers combined. Not surprisingly, women who underestimated their heart disease risk had less heart-healthy lifestyles.

“We need to more aggressively educate women about heart disease,” concludes lead study author Nieca Goldberg, MD, chief of the women’s heart program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

Here’s a vital reminder: In men, chest pain and tightness that spreads to the back, neck, shoulders, and arms are typical heart attack warning signs. But one in five women may experience any of the following “atypical” symptoms — and should seek medical attention promptly:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Pain in the upper abdomen (just under the breastbone)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Profound fatigue or weakness
  • Unexplained anxiety or a feeling of being unwell
  • Profuse sweating

Five Ways to Stay Heart-Healthy

  1. Maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and fish; aims for 25% of calories from fat; and includes no more than 20 grams (g) of saturated fat daily.
  3. Exercise.
  4. Don’t smoke.
  5. Keep tabs on your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and seek treatment if necessary.

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