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Breaking the Stereotype

Facts you need to know about women and heart attacks

You are eating dinner in a restaurant and notice that the person sitting at the next table has broken into a cold sweat and looks in sudden pain. They seem to have trouble breathing and are clutching their upper body. You might have seen something similar exaggerated in movies, have relatives who have experienced it, or read about it in health class - a heart attack.

It might not surprise you that someone around you could experience a heart attack-every year approximately 1.2 million people in the United States have heart attacks. But think about the person you were imagining in the scenario above. Would it surprise you if that person having the heart attack was a woman?

When the topic of heart attack arises, our initial thoughts are of middle age to older men. However, in actuality, nearly half of all heart attacks in the United States are experienced by women. Moreover, half of the women who have heart attacks die of coronary artery disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, many women feel they are not as susceptible to heart attacks as men and do not recognize the symptoms that are unique to women. Therefore, women tend to wait to be treated for a heart attack because they don't know they have fallen victim.

"Women do not experience the stereotypical symptoms of a heart attack-the feeling of crushing or tightening of the chest and shortness of breath," said Maged Haikal, MD, chief of Cardiovascular Services at St. Luke's Hospital. "Their symptoms are different from those of men and they need to be aware of them."

So, it's time we adjust our attitudes, realize that heart attacks are a real threat to women, and educate ourselves on the symptoms and preventive measures for women.

St. Luke's Hospital, along with the National Institutes for Health, provides the following common heart attack symptoms for women:
  • Abdominal or mid-back pain,
  • Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest,
  • Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat,
  • Fatigue, lack of energy,
  • Nausea or vomiting, and
  • Indigestion.
"The symptoms for a woman's heart attack may be disturbing because many of these are everyday occurrences," said Dr. Haikal. "Talk to your doctor about how to discern if you are having symptoms of a heart attack or simply ate too much at dinner. The difference may save your life."

In addition to becoming familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack, prevent heart disease by following the health tips below:
  • Talk to your doctor about your estrogen levels. Lower estrogen has been linked to cardiovascular disease.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Lower high blood pressure.
  • Reduce high cholesterol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise for at least thirty minutes everyday.
  • Manage diabetes.
Above all, remember that a heart attack can happen to you. Being aware of the problem and symptoms and actively working to prevent it can save you from this stereotypical "man's" disease. For more information on prevention or treatment of heart disease, call St. Luke's Cardiac Line at 314-205-6808.

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St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
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