About 630,000 Americans die each year from heart disease—that’s about 1 in 4 deaths. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women and can cause other complications, such as heart attacks.
But if one were to imagine what a heart attack looked like, they almost always envision a man clutching his chest in pain before falling to their knees. It’s such an enduring image that some people assume that women aren’t victims of heart attacks at all. The truth is women are also at risk for heart attack—and are more likely to have a longer hospital stay after a heart attack occurs. Here, we will discuss some of the warning signs that occur before and during a heart attack.
There is a reason this is the image that exists in the collective subconscious—it’s dramatic, and it’s common. Most (but importantly, not all) heart attacks do involve some level of chest discomfort, with sufferers describing it as a tightness, squeezing, or pressure. This discomfort may go away and return after a few moments, and it can occur in both men and women.
Shortness of breath
You may feel winded prior to or during a heart attack—whether or not you feel any chest discomfort at all. This may become worse over time and may occur more rapidly after slight exertion.
Nausea or vomiting
More common in women than in men, some sufferers have experienced these symptoms during a heart attack. These symptoms have occasionally been dismissed as acid reflux or indigestion.
Discomfort or pain in other parts of the body
The chest is not the only part of the body that can feel discomfort during or prior to a heart attack. Discomfort in one or both arms, in your back, neck, jaw, or even stomach can be a symptom of a heart attack. In men, this pain is commonly experienced in their left arm, while in women both arms can be susceptible. Women should also be particularly leery of pain that begins in the chest and then travels to the back or pain in the lower left side of the jaw.
Some women report that in the three or four weeks leading up to an attack, they experience increased levels of fatigue. Simple tasks, such as making a bed or climbing a flight of stairs, might take a lot more out of you than usual.
Rapid or Irregular Heartbeats
Your heartbeat may increase rapidly, or begin to occur out of rhythm, as you experience a fluttering feeling in your chest or palpitations.
Other feelings of unease
More common in women, there are other signs of discomfort that could be indicators of a heart attack. A feeling of anxiety similar to a panic attack may occur. One may also break into a sudden sweat or feel clammy. Finally, it’s possible that you may begin to feel light-headed or feel as if you are about to pass out. Once again, all of these are possible signs of a heart attack.
Heart attacks are not to be taken lightly. It is important to know that there are more symptoms beyond the chest-clutching pain, and you are encouraged to reach out to your health professional the moment you feel any of the above symptoms.