We've all seen heart attacks on TV and in the movies where a man clutches his chest and keels over. This might make for good drama, but it doesn't always reflect reality — especially when it comes to women and heart attacks.
At his practice in Boise, Idaho, Dr. Darin Weyhrich provides personalized one-on-one attention, offering everything from primary care to obstetrics and gynecology. By meeting all of a patient's needs at his one-stop shop, he makes life simpler and easier, while also creating a partnership to encourage healthier habits, including for their heart.
February frequently has people thinking about Valentine's Day hearts, but you should also take some time during American Heart Month to contemplate your own ticker.
Women and heart attacks
Often people think of heart attacks mainly affecting men, but heart disease is also the leading cause of death for women with one in four dying from it.
In both genders the most frequent issue is plaque formation, which results in the narrowing or blocking of the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart. This occurs gradually over a long period of time and therefore makes increasing age a risk factor. However, heart disease can strike women at all ages, so it's important to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get regular check ups to catch any problems in the early stages.
Women are also at greater risk for several other heart diseases. Coronary microvascular disease (also known as small artery disease or small vessel disease) involves damage to the inner walls of the smaller coronary artery vessels that extend off the larger arteries. This can result in spasms and reduced blood flow to the heart. Women are also more susceptible to broken heart syndrome, which means that severe emotional stress can cause the temporary failure of the heart muscle.
Risk factors in women
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity increase everyone's risk of having a heart attack. Other factors, however, affect women more, including diabetes, smoking, stress, and depression.
Menopause and its low levels of estrogen and pregnancy complications like high blood pressure or diabetes also increase a woman's risk of heart disease. Some chemotherapy medications and radiation therapies, including some used in treating breast cancer, can cause issues as well.
Symptoms of a heart attack
Discomfort, pain, or pressure can be present when a woman is having a heart attack, but those symptoms aren’t always the most noticeable symptoms. In fact, sometimes women experience no chest pain at all.
Women should be on the lookout for specific symptoms, including shortness of breath, pain in one or both arms, and/or discomfort in the jaw, neck, shoulder, upper back or abdomen. Sweating, nausea or vomiting, and lightheadedness or dizziness can also accompany a heart attack. Even unusual fatigue can be a sign.
Symptoms may even happen when women are resting or asleep.
Women may delay seeking treatment in the emergency room because their symptoms don't match what they perceive as indications of a heart attack and/or because they may ignore or downplay how they feel. However, this can result in heart damage. Anyone, male or female, who suspects they're having a heart attack should call 911 immediately.
Whether you're already in tip-top shape or looking to improve your habits, if you're seeking a primary care doctor to perform a comprehensive physical exam and encourage good health, call or click to book an appointment with Dr. Weyhrich today.