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Women often overlook heart attack warning signs

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

There are over 500,000 heart attacks in the United States every year.
About half of those are fatal before the victim reaches the hospital. When a heart attack strikes, seconds count. Any delay can result in death or permanent damage to the heart.
Recent studies have shown that heart attack symptoms may differ for women. In addition, many women victims of heart attack say they chose to ignore the symptoms because they were "uncertain they were having a heart attack; thought they could treat themselves; or were too busy."
During National Heart Month, becoming familiar with heart attack symptoms may save your own life or the life of a loved one.
Warning signs that are not unique to women include chest pain or discomfort; pain radiating to the neck, shoulder, back, arm or jaw; pounding heart, change in rhythm; difficulty breathing; heartburn, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain; cold sweats or clammy skin; and dizziness.
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified revealed some warning signs as particularly common to women suffering a heart attack.
These can include:
• sudden onset of weakness, shortness of breath, nausea-vomiting, indigestion, fatigue, body aches, or an overall feeling of illness without chest pain;
• an unusual feeling or mild discomfort in the back, chest, arm, neck or jaw, also without chest pain;
• sleep disturbance; or
• anxiety or panic with a feeling of impending doom.
NIH researchers found that "women often experience new or different physical symptoms as long as a month or more before experiencing heart attacks." The symptoms most often reported as lasting that long were unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance and shortness of breath. Fewer than 30 percent of the women reported having chest pain or discomfort in the chest prior to their heart attacks.
Other studies indicate that women's symptoms are not as predictable as those of men.
According to the Women's Heart Foundation, "women account for nearly half of all heart attack deaths." Heart disease kills five times as many women as breast cancer.
Any woman suspecting she is having a heart attack should:
• dial 9-1-1 and say, "I am having a heart attack."
• chew an uncoated aspirin right away.
• go to the nearest health care facility with 24-hour emergency cardiac care.
Because medical professionals may be unfamiliar with the differences of heart attack symptoms for women, the foundation advises, "The emergency room doctor may feel that you are not in any danger and that you may go home, but, if you are uncomfortable with this decision, ask for an opinion from a cardiologist before being released and insist on being admitted into the hospital overnight for observation."