The warning signs for a heart attack vary for every person, but they divide into two categories based on the sex of the patient. Although many people are aware of the signs of a heart attack in men, many women are unaware of the differing signs they may experience during a heart attack. This leads to many undiagnosed and untreated heart attacks in women, making it one of the deadliest health issues to women in general.
Overall, heart attack symptoms are depicted in the media as sudden and acute. In reality, this is not often the case. Symptoms may begin hours or even days before a heart attack becomes acute and life-threatening. As such, treating heart attacks in seniors is all about timing, even more so than with younger people, because older bodies are more likely to have serious health risks as a result of a heart attack. Recognizing the signs of a heart attack early are vital to maintaining the health of your loved one.
Heart Attacks in General
A heart attack occurs when a section of the heart muscle cannot get oxygen, according to the National Institutes of Health. When this happens, the heart cannot pump blood normally. If blood flow is not returned (and soon), the heart muscle can begin to die, causing permanent damage and further complications. A heart attack may cause cardiac arrest, where the heart stops altogether, but that does not always happen. It can happen, however, and that can produce some of the most serious complications, as, in the absence of a heart to pump oxygen-rich blood to the body, other types of muscle can begin to die as well, and the brain can become oxygen-starved.
The Most Common Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Both Men and Women are:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness or pain in the center or left side of the chest
- Nausea or indigestion, similar to heartburn but often more severe
- Cold sweat
Heart Attack Symptoms in Men
The general symptoms above are typically the symptoms most often displayed in men. Men are less likely to experience the nausea/vomiting and the shortness of breath, however, so it may be more important to note chest tightness, dizziness, etc. when looking for signs of a heart attack in men. Their heart attacks will often look more like those displayed on television, highlighting the tightness or pain in the chest area, although it is usually not so sudden.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
Women are more likely, according to the American Heart Association, to experience the shortness of breath and nausea aspects of typical heart attack symptoms. This can sometimes, in mild cases, lead women to thinking they have the flu or food poisoning. This means that many of them will not get proper treatment and can suffer huge consequences, including a weakening of the heart muscle (which can mean more heart attacks in the future).
Women are also more likely to experience shortness of breath, which can be attributed to any number of things, especially if the woman has asthma or is a smoker. Many women will not investigate this symptom because it does not appear to be directly related to the heart, but an inability to take deep breaths is a bad sign regardless of prior conditions or habits.
Jaw and back pain may also occur in women experiencing heart attacks. These are sometimes attributed to normal aches and pains, a toothache, menstrual pains, or other typical occurrences. However, especially in women with a family history or other risk factors for a heart attack, these symptoms should be noted and investigated by a doctor.
Many women ignore the signs of a heart attack, especially when they are not sudden or severe, in favor of caring for others or not making a fuss. This causes death and complications! If your loved one is a woman, be sure to encourage her to watch for these symptoms and treat them as soon as possible, overriding her fears of being a burden.
If your loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, consult a doctor immediately. It is better to ring a false alarm and treat a heart attack when it occurs than not to notice the signs of one.
American Heart Association (AHA). Heart Attack Symptoms in Women (July 2015). Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Heart-Attack-Symptoms-in-Women_UCM_436448_Article.jsp#.Vs-zWZwrLIU. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
American Heart Association. (AHA). Warning Signs of a Heart Attack (February 10, 2016). Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp#.Vs-zVpwrLIU. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
Mayo Clinic. Heart Attack: Symptoms (November 15, 2014). Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/basics/symptoms/con-20019520. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
National Institutes of Health (NIH). What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack? (November 6, 2015). Available at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/signs. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
National Institutes of Health (NIH). What Is a Heart Attack? (November 6, 2015). Available at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack. Retrieved February 25, 2016.