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Heart attacks in women are as common as they are in men, but they are often not taken seriously enough because of lack of awareness.
Think about the last time you saw an emotionally charged movie scene where a woman clutches her heart dramatically and is rushed to the hospital. Still thinking? Precisely. Women have heart attacks too, but they are not commonly recognized or even acknowledged.
Heart attack is typically seen as a man’s disease, and misdiagnoses in women are common across the world. There is no reason to suspect that things are any different in India. “A man’s chest pain is often considered to be a heart attack, whereas a woman complaining of the same symptom may not be taken seriously,” says Dr George Koshy, cardiologist at Govt Medical College, Trivandrum. “But the situation is improving and we are increasingly recognising heart attacks in women,” adds Dr Koshy.
The following are some of the risk factors for heart attacks (for both men and women):
In premenopausal women, heart attacks are comparatively fewer because of the protective effects of oestrogen, but after menopause the risk of heart attack in women is almost as high as it is in men.
The signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD) may differ between men and women. Some women may even have no symptoms at all. When this happens, it is called silent CHD. A silent CHD may remain undiagnosed till the woman exhibits symptoms of heart failure, heart attack, or arrhythmia.
“The symptoms of heart attack are somewhat similar in both men and women, but women may also experience vague or sometimes even silent symptoms,” says Dr Koshy.
The following are some of the heart attack symptoms that are quite common in women.
Though chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom, it need not always feel like the crushing pain or intense pressure you’d expect in a heart attack. You can even feel a sort of fullness and the pain can be in any region in the chest instead of just being confined to the left side.
If you feel lightheaded or you are having trouble breathing, it could signal a heart attack. You may also feel nauseous or break out in a cold sweat, and this can be accompanied with or without an uncomfortable sensation in the chest.
“An uncomfortable sort of chest pain that increases when you exert yourself, around the neck or centre of the chest area, could indicate a blocked artery,” says Dr Koshy. This can be confusing because you would typically expect chest pain to be focused on the left arm and chest, and not the jaw or the neck.
Fatigue is another sign. You may feel extremely tired even if you have not been exerting yourself. A feeling of tiredness in the chest, and inability to do simple activities because you feel tired could indicate that you’re having a heart attack.
When someone has a heart attack, prompt treatment is critical in order to prevent damage to heart muscles. “The best treatment for heart attack or acute myocardial infarction is to open up the blocked coronary artery without delay. This can be accomplished either by performing angioplasty and stenting in a cath lab or by administering a drug that will dissolve the blood clot inside the coronary artery,” says Dr Koshy.
“Get to a hospital as early as possible. If you can get the required medical help within the initial one hour, which is called the golden hour, you have the highest chance of survival and getting back to the previous quality of life,” explains Dr Koshy. After 12 hours, you cannot typically expect good results even if you do everything possible to restore blood flow.
People also generally make the mistake of going to the family doctor, thus wasting precious time when the heart muscles could have been salvaged.
“Get help from someone else. Do not drive yourself to the hospital because it could be dangerous to both yourself and others,” says Dr Koshy. If you don’t have anyone to drive you, call for an ambulance.
Women often tend to downplay their own illnesses. If there are any symptoms that make you feel really uncomfortable, especially if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, make sure that you take it seriously and get it checked. Don’t worry about feeling silly even if you turn out to be wrong. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Take deep and slow breaths while you wait to get to the hospital. Try to stay as calm as possible. With the right treatment, you can survive the heart attack and get back to your normal life.
The most important thing is to never dismiss or ignore any unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations, even if they may feel like general tiredness or the flu. Any sort of pain in the chest area must be checked out immediately. Don’t let your embarrassment stand in the way of recognising and promptly treating a heart attack.
Image source: woman with acute chest pain by Shutterstock.
Nisha Salim is a self-employed writer and a social media junkie.
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