The Grapevine

Heart Attack Symptoms In Women Differ From Men, This Is How

If asked to visualize a heart attack, the first image that comes to mind involves a person clutching their chest while wearing an expression of agony or discomfort. 

While this is not wrong, many people are unaware of potential gender differences in what a heart attack looks and feels like. Though the above symptom is common in men, the signs could be subtler and atypical for their counterparts.

"Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure," said Nieca Goldberg of the Langone Medical Center at NYU. "Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue."

Shortness of breath is often the first sign of a heart attack patients may notice. But it can easily be mistaken for a panic attack, especially when accompanied by unexplained sweating and a sense of impending doom.

In a recent series of tweets, a nurse explained how she had mistaken her heart attack for muscle strain. While she experienced no chest pain, she felt a "burning" pain across her upper back, shoulder blades, and both arms.

Some women describe the body pain as similar to having a rope tightened and squeezed around them, Dr. Goldberg added. If you experience such pain lasting more than 15 minutes in any area of the upper body, get medical help as soon as possible.

Time is absolutely crucial since delaying medical care for the heart can result in long-term consequences and increase the risk of death. When experiencing heart attack symptoms, a new study from Switzerland found that patient delay in seeking treatment was higher in women than men.

On average, women wait 37 minutes longer than men before they contact medical services.

"Women having a heart attack seem to be less likely than men to attribute their symptoms to a condition that requires urgent treatment," said Dr. Matthias Meyer, a cardiologist at Triemli Hospital in Zurich.

The delay or hesitance to seek treatment is one of the factors to explain why survival rates are worse among women. Despite having a reputation of being a "man's disease," heart disease is actually the leading cause of death for women in the United States

It is never too late to start making changes in your lifestyle to reduce your risk of heart attack — staying active, getting enough nutrients in your diet, avoiding smoking and controlling blood pressure as well as blood sugar levels. The American Heart Association also highlights reducing stress, limiting alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy body weight.