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Heart Attack Symptoms Women Shouldn't Ignore

Updated on May 9, 2011

Heart Disease - The Silent Killer

Every year, over 2500 people die from heart disease. For many, they become a part of this statistic by not recognizing the early warning signs. As this disease is often associated with men, women ignore the symptoms, making them even more susceptible. To make matters worse, the symptoms that are common for men differ from those in women. This article will analyze these differences, with the hope of making women more aware of the symptoms, and less susceptible to this silent killer.

In this article we'll examine the symptoms, we'll assess the risk factors, we'll look at prevention, and we'll also look at treatment options. Remember ... the best way to avoid becoming part of a statistic is to become educated enough to know the signs of risk. If this article saves but one life, then the time spent writing it will be repaid a thousand fold.

A heart attack can occur suddenly without warning
A heart attack can occur suddenly without warning

Why Do Heart Attacks Kill So Many People Yearly?

Heart attacks are brought about by heart disease, a silent killer that attacks your body from the inside, often giving the victim few clues that an urgent medical issue exists. Even trained doctors can miss the signs, as so many of them can be explained away by so many common and less volatile conditions. We don't miss the signs because we chose to ignore them - we miss them because we often aren't sure of which ones are a sign of an impending heart attack.

The old school of thought is that chest pains are the initial sign we should look out for, but this symptom comes along when heart disease is already well along its course, and it then becomes a matter of immediate treatment, rather then prevention or cure. The best option to avoid a heart attack is to recognize the causes of heart disease and reduce all of the risks you can. 

However, for some of us, we have already accepted these risks ... how do we know when we have gone too far?

Heart Attack Symptoms

Typically, in women, symptoms become evident about a month before an attack occurs, but the signs are often misdiagnosed or ignored. A pain or discomfort in the chest, in or around the heart, is often the most obvious sign. Still, this is often brushed off as heartburn or angina.

This pain and discomfort can then radiate to the left arm, which is what most people perceive as a heart attack. Little do some know, this pain can radiate to the other arm as well. It can also be sensed as pain and discomfort in the back, the neck, the jaw, and the stomach. Of course, heartburn and fatigue can cause the same symptoms, which is why heart attacks are often misdiagnosed by the person experiencing them.

The signs that come before the attack are even more confusing to diagnose: fatigue, shortness of breath, and sleep disruption. It's no wonder heart attacks claim so many lives yearly, as it's so difficult to pinpoint actual symptoms that can't be attributed to something else.

The symptoms of a full cardiac arrest are much more difficult to ignore: loss of consciousness, dilated pupils, loss of pulse, pale or blue skin. Of course, if you're the person experiencing these symptoms you are in a state where you can only count on others for your care, as you are in no condition at this point to resolve your situation. The trick is to avoid the risks by lowering your odds, and this involves some lifestyle changes.

Silencing the Killer

Most of us participate in behaviors we know to be risky, but we tell ourselves the same thing ... "I'll change the behavior when it begins to have an effect on my life". That all sounds good, but the truth is that such behaviors have an immediate and eroding effect on your health.

Of course, I'm not here to preach to you about living a healthy life, I'm here to prevent you from living a short one. The sad truth is that we all see the results of living on a destructive path, but we don't see the results of making good choices. We like to assume good health as the standard and see no need for changes until our health turns for the worse. This is akin to driving 150 mph down a busy freeway and continuing to do so because you haven't struck another car yet. We all know that's a bad idea, and ignoring the risks for heart disease is the same gamble.

Living Longer

Interestingly enough, reducing the risks for heart disease also reduces the risks for many other illnesses. By preventing one silent killer you will prevent many, allowing yourself to live longer and do more with your life. 

By following the suggestions that follow, you stand a far better chance of living long enough to see your children graduate from college, your grandchildren being born, and your great grandchildren being born. It's all about life decisions ... choices you need to make to live longer.

Your first life choice should be to stop all tobacco products. If you smoke then you need to speak to your doctor about ways you can quit. Also, if you chew tobacco, you need to stop that as well. a cessation of all tobacco products adds years to your life ... that' the reason the FDA places all of those warnings on tobacco products ... to save lives.

Your second life choice should be to start controlling what goes into your body. Don't overeat; stay away from foods that are fatty or high in cholesterol foods; eat more fruits, fiber, and grain. Fish is good for your diet as well. So to speak ... eat like the caveman did, but stay away from fatty meats - lean meats are fine.

Your third life choice should be to lower your blood pressure. Check your blood pressure frequently and if it's consistently high, speak to your doctor about lowering it. Most likely he will prescribe a better diet (which you should follow) or in extreme situations he might prescribe medications. 

Your fourth life choice should be to become more physically active. This doesn't mean you need to run a marathon daily, but you also can't sit on a couch every day and expect to maintain your health. A 1/2 hour walk is considered ample daily exercise, and allows us enough time to accomplish everything else in our often busy and harried lives.

Your fifth life choice should be to maintain a healthy weight. For the most part, those who are overweight are already aware of their condition, and often feel they can do nothing to resolve it. However, through exercise and a healthy diet,  a healthy weight can typically be maintained.

Your sixth life choice should be to moderate your usage of alcohol. A drink or two a day is considered healthy, but taking in more alcohol negates the benefits and increases your risks. 

For those who have diabetes, your seventh life choice should be to keep this disease under control. Allowing diabetes to rampage through your body increases your risk for high disease. By controlling one disease, you help prevent the onset of another.

You only get one heart - treat it right!
You only get one heart - treat it right!

Treatments for Heart Disease

If you see someone suffering from a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately and then perform CPR. Logic seems to dictate that you should perform the CPR first, but this prolongs medical assistance from arriving. Make the call as brief as possible and then return to the patient. If you don't know how to perform CPR, the person on the 9-1-1 line can walk you through it. Remember, getting the patient stable does not make them healthy - even if you bring the patient back around, they will still need to be attended to by a doctor.

After the attack passes the doctor will prescribe medications (which must be taken faithfully) and in some extreme cases an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) will be used to control the heart rhythm. From there, it's a matter of caring after the patient and seeing that they convalesce properly and don't overexert themselves.

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