More than millions of people in the United States have heart attacks each year. A heart attack, also called myocardial infarction, is the permanent damage or death of a heart muscle due to the lack of blood supply.
Heart attack in women: Causes
A heart muscle needs an abundant supply of oxygen-rich blood to nurture it. Coronary arteries perform this vital blood supply. Any diseases to the coronary arteries result in a narrowing of arteries and as a result, an obstruction is created in the flow of blood through them. A heart attack occurs when there is an obstruction for blood flow to the heart. Materials like fatty matter, calcium, proteins, minerals, inflammatory cells, etc. form plaques of different sizes in the arteries. When the plaques become hard, blood clots are formed around it as the platelets come to the area. When the blood clots block the artery, the blood supply is reduced causing the death of heart muscle, which is called a heart attack. Another reason for a heart attack is spasm in coronary arteries. Blood flow to the heart muscle is severely reduced because of this.
Like men, all women face the threat of heart attack and other heart diseases. Heart attacks have become the most common death cause for both men and women in the United States. The difference is in the symptoms. The symptoms of heart diseases are different in women from those in men. These symptoms are not so expressive and are often ignored which is the critical issue or challenge in the case of women.
Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women
Like men, women also have chest pain and discomfort as a common symptom of a heart attack. However, women also experience some other symptoms that are not common among men. Following are the heart attack symptoms in women.
- Painful pressure, squeezing, tightness, aching sensation in the center of the chest that eventually comes and goes.
- Spreading of the pain and discomfort from chest to one or both arms and then to neck, jaw, back or stomach
- Breathing difficulty or shortness of breath with or without chest pain and discomfort
- Heartburn and pain in abdomen, jaw or back
- Nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness or sudden dizziness, breaking out in cold sweat and fatigue
According to Neica Goldberg, a prominent American Heart Association Volunteer, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure although it is the common symptom for heart attack in both men and women. In lieu, they may experience breathing shortness, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, lightheadedness, upper back pressure or even extreme fatigue.
Although the signs are subtle, it can cause deadly consequences. Since the symptoms are not as dramatic as in the case of men, women don’t get help right away. Even women themselves don’t take it into a serious concern although heart disease is regarded as the no.1 killer of women in the United States. They often treat the life-threatening symptoms as of normal aging, acid reflux or the flu. Goldberg says, “there are still many women who are shocked to know that they could be having a heart attack”.
For most women, a heart attack will have unmistakable symptoms. But the fact is that they can be subtle and even more confusing. It is found that women often take aspirin instead of calling 911 when they think they are having a heart attack. But according to Goldberg, it is important to call 911 and get instruction before taking aspirin. Excess amount of aspirin can also lead to heart attacks.
How to prevent a heart attack?
One of the major causes of death and disability in the United States is a heart attack. Many factors, commonly known as risk factors can cause a heart attack. You can control some of them, but not all. Sufficient knowledge of the risk factors helps you to lower the risk of heart attacks.
Risk factors you cannot change
Both men and women never affected by the risk factors in the same way. Some risk factors work in a different manner in women than that of men. For instance, in women, the production of hormone estrogen offers some protection against heart diseases. However, they are more vulnerable to the risk of heart attacks from diabetes than men.
As a person gets older, the risks for a heart attack also increases. Usually, men who have crossed 45 and women above 55 have a greater susceptibility to heart diseases, especially attacks.
3. Genetic or family history
You can’t change the risk of heart attacks if it is in your family history. i.e. if any of your close family members had a heart attack or any other heart disease at an early age, then the risk of heart attack will be greater in you. The family history of heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, etc. increases the chances of heart attacks.
Modifiable risk factors
Everyone wants to give the best for their heart and is thinking about what can they do to lower the risks of heart attacks. There are many things that people can do and need to take care of in order to reduce the chances of getting a heart attack.
1. Balance your blood pressure
One of the major risk factors for heart attacks and other heart diseases is high blood pressure. Check your blood pressure at regularly especially those who have high blood pressure. Adults must check their blood pressure once a year. By maintaining your lifestyle, regular exercise and eating habits, you can control and balance high blood pressure
2. Control the cholesterol level
High levels of cholesterol are not good for your health. Excess amount of cholesterols in your blood lead to clogging of arteries, coronary artery diseases, and heart attack. Proper medication, healthy food habits, and lifestyle changing can keep your cholesterol level low.
3. Diabetes control
High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart. So it is significant to get a diabetes test done properly and keep the sugar levels low. Diabetes doubles the risk of heart attacks.
4. Follow a healthy diet
Add plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet. Avoid the use of saturated fats, foods with hydrogenated ingredients, full-fat dairy products, fried items, fast foods, bakery products or packed snack foods, chips, foods having high sodium level, excess sugar and salt and red meat. Keep your diet in a variety way so that you will get all the essential nutrients. The DASH diet is one example that helps you to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol level.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
A proper diet will keep you in a healthy weight. Obesity can damage your heart and increase the risk of having heart attacks since it is linked to other risk factors such as blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce all these risk factors. In order to lose weight, some people reduce their food consumption considerably. It may lead to low blood pressure can affect your health too. So, it is important to maintain a healthy diet in your life.
6. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise has so many benefits. It improves blood circulation and strengthens the heart. Proper exercise burns the excess fat in your body and lowers the cholesterol and blood pressure. It also helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Combining such physical activities in your lifestyle you get greater results. Doing exercise strenuously is not a better way, but increasing the duration, intensity, and frequency of exercise can provide good outcomes.
7. Avoid smoking and alcohol
Considerable alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking can raise blood pressure which can eventually lead to a heart attack. Drinking alcohol adds extra calories and increases your weight. For women, excess alcohol consumption makes them more vulnerable to heart diseases than men. And so, cigarettes too. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces oxygen in the blood. This affects the oxygen supply to the heart.
In women who smoke, there is a higher chance for blood clots. If you don’t have a smoking habit, please don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting it can reduce the risks for heart attacks and other diseases, especially lung diseases. It’s better to take the help of a health provider to quit smoking.
8. Stress management
Heart diseases are always linked to stress. Excess stress heightens your blood pressure, which can trigger a heart attack. Reduce stress in your daily life. Activities like exercise, listening to music, reading, meditation, etc. can help you to manage the stress.
9. Get enough sleep
Rather than yawning throughout the day, sleep deprivation can harm your health. Not getting enough sleep increases the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes which are the risk factors for heart diseases. Make quality sleep a priority in your lifestyle and keep good sleeping habits. An adult requires an average of 7-9 hours of sleep.
If you are suffering from sleeping disorders, consult a health provider and get sufficient treatment for that. For instance, in sleep apnea, your breathing stops temporarily. The symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, panting for air in sleep, waking up several times during the night, headache after the sleep, dry mouth and memory problems. It better to go to a doctor if you think you have it and ask for your sleep study. Proper treatment appears to reduce the risk of a heart attack from sleep apnea.
Lack of physical activity increases weight and is a major risk factor for heart disease. Studies have found women to be more inactive than men and are more susceptible to heart attacks.
Emergency care for heart attack
Heart attacks are often unexpected and are a life-threatening medical emergency. It requires quick action and immediate treatments. Before taking to hospital, providing effective emergency care can lessen the heart damage and save lives. Some of the emergent care you can do is:
1. Call 911 or your local number for a medical emergency
If you feel like you or someone who is with you has a chest discomfort or shows the heart attack symptoms, call 911 immediately. Don’t ignore even minor symptoms of a heart attack more than five minutes. It is better to take the help of local emergency medical services force as they can start treatment on their way to the hospital.
For instance, they can revive the heart patients if their heart stops. If you have no access to any local medical services, take the person to hospital as soon as possible. Although, the first impulse is to drive yourself it’s better to call an ambulance or neighbor or friend to drive you to the hospital. Driving under these circumstances can be a bit risky.
2. Make the person calm and have them sit or lie down
The person gets nervous and feels suffocated at the time of the attack. Make them calm and help to breathe slowly. It’s good to let them sit somewhere or lie down if they want to. All these help the patient to have some confidence and courage. Panicking makes the condition worse.
3. Chew and swallow aspirin
Having an aspirin immediately lessen the severity or impact. It is always good to chew the aspirin rather than swallowing whole as it works quickly when chewed. If the person is allergic to aspirin or doctor has instructed to not have aspirin avoid taking aspirin.
4. Take nitroglycerin
Only if prescribed to you by a doctor, the patient can take nitroglycerin while waiting for emergency help.
5. Perform CPR
If the person goes unconscious, begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) right away. If you are not trained for giving CPR, doctors suggest mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and chest compressions which help you to revive the person. The emergency medical service personnel can help you with the instructions to perform the procedures until their arrival.
Does the treatment is different in men and women?
Normally the treatment for heart attacks in both men and women is similar. The treatments include medications, angioplasty, and coronary bypass surgery. The treatments are effective for both men and women. However, women commonly don’t have chest pain and hence these potential life-saving options are hardly offered to them. their treatment generally includes medications and lifestyle changes.