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Mixed Signals: Heart attack symptoms can vary widely between men and women

When a television or movie character is having a heart attack, it’s usually a man, and he’s usually grabbing his chest and grimacing in pain. If it were a woman, the actress might have to portray the symptoms differently, and not quite as dramatically.

That’s because men and women usually experience heart attacks, and the warning signs leading up to them, quite differently. According to research from the National Institutes of Health, women often experience the following symptoms a month or more before the attack:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion
  • Anxiety

And during the heart attack, many women reported:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Neck or back pain
  • Unusual fatigue

What’s missing here? Many women say they had no chest pain or discomfort before or even during their heart attack. That said, doctors say that chest pain is still the most important heart attack symptom for both men and women.

For men, and for some women as well, the “classic” signs of a heart attack continue to be

  • Pain down the left arm
  • Crushing pain in the chest area

And anyone experiencing either or both of those symptoms should seek medical treatment right away.

What the research shows is that men and women can experience a heart attack very differently, but the event itself is still the No. 1 cause of death for both genders. That’s why prevention is so important. In addition to being aware of your own heart-attack risks, it’s key to maintain a lifestyle that includes exercise and a healthy diet.

Do you think you might be at risk for a heart attack due to family history, or because of weight issues or other health problems? Make an appointment with one of our cardiac specialists, and we’ll work with you to find out what shape your heart is in, and develop a plan to keep it — and you — healthy and happy for many years to come.

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