Strathfield Private Hospital
Part of Ramsay Health Care

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The Seven Signs Of A Heart Attack...Do You Know Them?

Feb 27, 2014

Heart disease is the number one killer of Australians – but many are missing the warning signals, especially women.

Here are the seven signs of a heart attack you need to know about.

The Symptoms

"Heart attack symptoms can present very differently in men and women," says Strathfield Private Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr Matthew Bayfield.

"Men are more likely to have the classic elephant-on-the-chest type feeling – along with other symptoms such as sweating, nausea and pain radiating from the jaw to the arm.

"Some women will also experience this crushing pain, and many will have some minor chest pain."

However he says frequently other symptoms are more prominent in women, such as severe, unexplained fatigue; shortness of breath; cold sweats and nausea.

Pain or discomfort in either one or both arms or pain/discomfort felt in the back, neck, jaw or stomach are also common heart attack warning signs.

Dr Bayfield says in the month leading up to a female heart attack the top symptoms are extreme tiredness, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, depression and anxiety, a racing heart along with weakness and dizziness.

"Men's symptoms are often more chest-apparent because heart attacks in men tend to affect the major arteries, while women are more likely to have blockages in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart - a condition called small vessel heart disease.

"The bottom line is there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. People need to be aware of subtle gender differences and that both sexes can have all or any of these symptoms."

The Treatment

"We also know that men and women - until quite recently - were often treated differently in hospital and that women were significantly more likely to die in hospital from a heart attack than their male counterparts," says Dr Bayfield.

He says a 2012 Journal Of The American Medical Association Study of more than 1 million heart attack patients, found many more women than men went to hospital with no chest pain or discomfort.

"When there was no chest pain or chest pain was not the most prominent symptom patients were treated less aggressively.

"So women were less likely to get clot-busting drugs, balloon procedures to open the arteries or bypass surgery.

"The study also found that women were twice as likely to die in hospital than men, perhaps partly due to delayed treatment or that the women themselves often delayed treatment because they tend to put family needs first."

The Triggers

"For both sexes weight, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, hypertension and high cholesterol (particularly high LDL) is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease," says Dr Bayfield.

However there are some other triggers for women too. We know that smoking damage is often worse in women, and that women smokers are twice as likely to die of a heart attack as male smokers.

"We also know that post menopause, a woman's risk of heart attack increases because she is no longer protected by oestrogen. Older women are just as likely to have a heart attack as older men, whilst younger women are more protected until menopause starts."

The Misconception

"The biggest misconception is that heart attacks happen mostly to men,"

says Dr Bayfield.

"For most women the big fear is cancer, particularly breast cancer – but it's heart disease that is the single biggest killer of Australian women," says Dr Bayfield.

"In fact heart disease kills almost as many Australian women as men – around 9708 a year.

Did you know?

You should call 000 for any chest pain that persists for more than 10 minutes – however sharp, stabbing pain is less associated with a heart attack than heaviness, tightness, pressure or a crushing sensation in the centre of the chest.

Source: Heart Foundation


Top heart attack symptoms in women

One month before a heart attack During a heart attack
Unusual fatigue (71%) Shortness of breath (58%)
Sleep disturbance (48%) Weakness (55%)
Shortness of breath (42%) Unusual fatigue (43%)
Indigestion (39%) Cold sweat (39%)
Anxiety (36%) Dizziness (39%)
Heart racing (27%) Nausea (36%)
Arms weak/heavy (25%) Arms weak/heavy (35%)
Source: Circulation 2003, Vol. 108, p. 2621.