It is a common misconception that men and women experience different heart attack symptoms. While symptoms may vary from person to person, both men and women more or less experience similar symptoms, with maybe few subtle differences. It is the response to the heart attack symptom which is different in women as compared to men.
The most common and well-known symptom of a heart attack, in both men and women is a sudden onset of crushing type of chest pain. Other common symptoms are breathlessness, pain in the back, jaw or arms, and perspiration. Some uncommon symptoms include burning sensation in the chest or stomach, vomiting, fainting, palpitations, sense of impending doom and stuttering or waxing and waning kind of symptoms over a few days. These uncommon symptoms may be more prevalent in women. This may be due to the fact that women tend to ignore their symptoms, believing that they cannot have a heart attack. Also women have a higher threshold for pain and thus delay in seeking medical attention.
Diabetic patients, both men and women, on the other hand, may sometimes have no symptoms at all of having a heart attack, the so-called “silent heart attack”.
Another common misconception is that heart attack is a man’s disease and women are far less susceptible to a heart attack as compared to men. The fact is that heart attack is the single biggest killer of women worldwide.
It is true that up to menopause, the presence of estrogen hormone in women might confer some protection against a heart attack. But, diabetic and overweight women would have the same if not higher risk than men. And, post-menopause, the risk is same in both the sexes.
Also women have a higher risk of dying and have a worse outcome after a cardiac event, as compared to men.
For both genders, the ways to protect oneself from a heart attack are similar.
First and foremost, assess your risk of having a heart attack. There are simple algorithms that can help you to determine this risk. These algorithms take into account your age and the presence of cardiac risk factors like smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia. Depending upon your risk status, you can take appropriate preventive steps in consultation with your doctor.
Know your numbers. It is important that you should know your ideal body weight and blood pressure as well as your sugar and cholesterol values, as these are major risk factors for heart disease. If your levels are abnormal, then you must take appropriate measures to bring them down to normal.
Physical activity or exercise is a key ingredient of therapeutic lifestyle changes that are essential to prevent a heart attack.
Have a heart-healthy diet, that includes a low-fat and low-salt diet, liberal amounts of fibre, vegetables and fruits, and avoid saturated fats, sugary items, processed food and red meat.
Stop smoking completely if you are a smoker.
And, finally take your medications regularly and have periodic check-ups with your doctor as advised.
The author is a Senior Interventional Cardiologist, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai. Views are personal.
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