A heart attack is often considered an event that affects men, with more than 11 percent of men ages 60-79 experiencing a heart attack. But although men are more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, women are more likely to die of one.
In fact, according to the American Heart Association the number of women who die each year from some form of cardiovascular disease has outpaced the number of men since 1984 and remains the number one cause of death for women.
The group also reports that women are more likely to have poorer long-term outcomes after they leave the hospital.
“Research shows that women often wait longer than men before going to the hospital after they start having symptoms,” said Tiffany Fonte, DO, a cardiology fellow at Samaritan Heart Center. “That delay in treatment along with not correctly identifying heart disease early can contribute to the disparity we’re seeing in survival rates between men and women after a heart attack.”
Women are often older than men when they have their first heart attack, 72 years old versus 65 according to the American Heart Association. Women who have a heart attack are also more likely to have other serious conditions like diabetes, hypertension, depression or renal dysfunction.
“It’s critically important for women to know the signs of a heart attack, and then act right away,” said Fonte.
Know The Signs
While both women and men can have the typical and easy-to-recognize symptoms of a heart attack, Fonte reports that women more frequently have atypical symptoms or even none at all.
Typical symptoms include:
- Chest pain or pressure (Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that women are more likely to describe chest pain as sharp or burning rather than tight or aching.)
- Pain in the neck, jaw or throat
Atypical symptoms include:
- Pain in the upper abdomen or back
- Shortness of breath
- Flu-like symptoms
Symptoms may come and go in the days or weeks leading up to a heart attack.
Protect Your Heart
So how can you protect yourself from a heart attack if symptoms may be vague or not even present? Staying on top of your health and being an active participant in your regular physician visits can help. Fonte also recommends these steps:
- Know your numbers — total cholesterol, HDL “good” cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index. Your doctor can talk with you about your risk for heart conditions based on these numbers.
- Keep other health conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression and renal dysfunction well managed.
- Eat a heart healthy Mediterranean-style diet that contains a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats.
- Exercise for 40 minutes, three to four times a week.
- Get enough sleep, seven to eight hours a night for most people.
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how to quit.
- Talk to your doctor about whether medication is right for you.
Remember to wear red and help build awareness for women and heart disease – Go Red for Women!