Heart Health: Warning Signs Differ For Women

Heart attack symptoms may vary from what you were told in health class. 

You’d absolutely know if you were having a heart attack, right? You’d feel the telltale pain in your left arm, clutch your chest and fall to the ground. Off to the hospital you’d go; everyone around you knowing it’s a heart attack. What if you experienced something like heartburn, some nausea and a cold sweat? Would you think heart attack then? Neither did my friend, Kayla, who at the tender age of 22, experienced her first.

Heart disease is the number-one killer in the U.S. for women – and men – and is responsible for one-in-three female deaths, according to the American Heart Association. Kayla is lucky she survived.

After teaching her third dance class that day, Kayla sat on the floor to take a break before the next wave of dancers walked through the door. She felt particularly winded, but brushed it off as she had just gotten over a virus. She stood to set up for the next class when she experienced extreme nausea, broke into a cold sweat and couldn’t catch her breath. Pat, a dance dad and a paramedic, walked into the studio with his daughter at that moment. The timing of his arrival and quick thinking saved Kayla’s life. 

Women must be educated about heart health, because we’re more likely to have “atypical” symptoms of a heart attack. Most women don’t realize that heart disease is the greatest risk to our health, even if we’re active and otherwise look healthy. To make matters trickier, the symptoms of a heart attack can vary, woman to woman.

After surviving three different heart attacks, the experience detailed above and two more at the hospital, Kayla now makes it her mission to educate every woman she meets about heart disease and heart attacks. She didn’t know, until that Saturday in April, that she had an underlying heart condition. When speaking with her for this article, I asked what we should look out for and what are the atypical symptoms of a heart attack. She pointed me to the American Heart Association website and this symptoms list:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. You suddenly feel a crushing exhaustion. Walking or any activity feels impossible.
  3. Sudden pain in your jaw, neck, arm, back or sternum. It may feel like a pulled muscle or severe heartburn.
  4. Hot flashes, cold sweats and nausea. Many women write these symptoms off as hormonal fluctuations or a stomach bug coming on.
  5. And lastly, the inability to catch your breath. This may feel like an anxiety attack, racing heart or as if you ran up a hundred flights of stairs without physical exertion.

If you or another woman experience any of these symptoms, especially if you experience some or all of them at the same time, seek medical attention immediately. When it comes to surviving a heart attack, every second counts. 

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