Gene Millen, Author - Revised 4/12/14
If you're a woman, you may believe you're not as vulnerable to a heart attack as men but you are. The latest studies show that of the nearly 500,000 heart attack deaths that occur each year, over 233,000 are women, and more than 87,000 women die each year of stroke.
By comparison, about 43,000 women die each year from breast cancer and over 55,000 from lung cancer. Not a pretty picture. But read on because you can avoid being one of these statistics.
Why isn't more attention given to women heart attack symptoms? Clearly heart disease is epidemic in women as well as in men. The main difference between the sexes is not whether women are likely to get heart disease, but when.
This isn't commonly recognized because heart disease takes almost a decade longer to show up in women. By then, a woman is often concerned with other health problems she may have, such as cancer, arthritis, or osteoporosis. These diseases tend to draw attention away from the steadily ticking time bomb of heart disease.
It's true that more men have heart attacks than women and men have them earlier in life. But women have lower chances of surviving them.
Studies show that 44 percent of women die within a year compared to 27 percent of men. During the first four years following a heart attack, the rate of having a second attack is 20 percent for women compared with 16 percent for men.
A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood to part of the heart muscle itself is severely reduced or stopped. It happens because one or more of the coronary arteries that supplies blood to the heart is blocked.
Depending on how long the blood supply is cut off, the muscle cells in that area of the heart suffer permanent damage or die.
The 1992 age-adjusted death rate for coronary heart disease is 33 percent higher for black women than for white women.
From ages 35 to 74, the death rate from heart attack among black women is 1.4 times that of white women. After age 85, death rates for white women are highest.
Women tend to be about 10 years older than men when they have a heart attack. They are more likely to have other conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure, making it all the more vital that they get proper treatment fast.
The heart attack symptom warning signs for women.
As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
"Women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure, " said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health.
"Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, light headedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue."
There are differences in how women and men respond to a heart attack. Women are less likely than men to believe they're having a heart attack and more likely to delay in seeking emergency treatment If you feel heart attack symptoms, do not delay.
Remember, minutes matter! Do not wait for more than a few minutes5 minutes at most before calling 911. You and your family will benefit most if you seek fast treatment.
In the ten years from 1982 to 1992, the age-adjusted death rates for women declined by 28.7 percent for coronary heart disease, by 26.8 percent for stroke, and by 22.4 percent for all cardiovascular diseases.
This progress is due in part to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of heart patients. A greater focus on heart attack prevention and women heart attack symptoms has also helped. Many women are learning how poor lifestyle habits increase the risk of heart disease in women, and they're changing these habits to cut their risk.
For example, in the United States, smoking has declined by more than 37 percent since 1965. Smoking among women has declined by 27 percent. More than one of every four women who smoked regularly in 1965 have quit.
There is a saying that, "Exercise doesn't make us live longer. It only seems like it."
Exercise, in the right amount and intensity, just might keep you from having a heart attack. As a bonus it will also keep us from developing "love handles" and surplus belly fat.
Female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, appear to provide a protective effect against cardiovascular disease. As women go through menopause, when hormone levels drop, there is often an elevation of cholesterol and increased risk of cardiovascular disease
Fast action is your best weapon against a heart attack.
Why? Because clot-busting drugs and other artery-opening treatments can stop a heart attack in its tracks.
A heart doctor can prevent or limit damage to the heart, but they need to be given immediately after symptoms begin. The sooner they are started, the more good they will do, and the greater the chances are for survival and a full recovery.
To be most effective, they need to be given ideally within 1 hour of the start of heart attack symptoms.
If you're having heart attack symptoms call 911 and tell the operator you think you may be having a heart attack.
Don't call your doctor's office and wait for a call back or just hope for the best.
The risk is too great and life is short enough as it is.
Chew an adult aspirin or crush and drink it dissolved in water for faster absorption. Aspirin may help restore some blood flow through clogged arteries.
Lie down. It's almost always best to wait for the ambulance rather than having someone drive you to the hospital (don't drive yourself).
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