Daniel Mulvihill, M.D.
Do men and women have different heart attack symptoms?
Answer: There is evidence of “gender difference” in heart attack symptoms. Women are more likely than men to report shortness of breath or dizziness before a heart attack. Older women may experience shortness of breath, which is often treated as a respiratory issue. If shortness of breath is a new, unexplained symptom, I believe it is a good idea to have a cardiac exam as part of a comprehensive assessment.
Classic signs of a heart attack include crushing chest pain, pain radiating down the left arm or to the neck and a feeling of fullness in the chest. Both men and women may experience these symptoms.
Recognizing warning signs and getting to the nearest emergency department as soon as possible can help you survive a heart attack. It’s much better to be told your discomfort is from indigestion than to put off lifesaving treatment because you’re concerned about a false alarm.
Preventing heart disease starts with reducing controllable risk factors. Smoking, which is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, is even more potent in women. Sedentary activity, an unhealthy diet and cumulative stress also increase the possibility of cardiovascular disease. Exercise is helpful in breaking the cycle of stress and in controlling weight.
It’s very helpful to keep cholesterol and blood pressure within an acceptable range. Cholesterol goals are Ldl< 100 and Hdl > 40, while the goal for blood pressure is <120-130/60-70. If you have diabetes, it is especially important to have regular cardiac checkups and remember that the indicators of heart problems can be vague. Ask your physician for specific advice.