Most heart attacks are sudden and intense, but some heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. But one thing is clear: Heart attack warning signs for men and women often are different.
“In women, heart attacks can look atypical,” said Dr. Shereif Rezkalla, Marshfield Clinic Health System interventional cardiologist. “Women may have a sudden feeling of fatigue or shortness of breath with no feeling of chest pain.”
Most heart attacks in men, however, involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. The chest discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Because heart attacks can look so different in women and men, Dr. Rezkalla stressed the importance of seeing a doctor as soon as something doesn’t feel right. “A normal woman can often go on with her day after feeling heart attack symptoms, but she should never belittle symptoms that don’t feel right. Any delay in heart attack management is more damage to the heart. If you do not feel good but do not have the standard symptoms, you should not leave it alone. See a doctor or go to urgent care.”
Heart attacks can occur at very different ages for women and men as well. “When women begin menstruating, their hormones have a protective effect against heart attacks,” Dr. Rezkalla said. “As women move into perimenopause or menopause, heart attacks can become more likely. Because of this, the peak heart attack age for women is about ten years higher than for men.”
Cardiovascular disease is a serious concern. Mortality from cardiovascular disease in women now exceeds that from breast cancer. It is important to take preventive measures to ward off heart attacks. Be active, don’t smoke and manage stress and cholesterol levels. “Everyone can do these things and should take this issue very seriously,” Dr. Rezkalla said. “Heart attacks can go down and must go down.”
This handy guide will give you a better understanding heart attack warning signs — so everyone is prepared.