A post by wellness nurse Mary Buchan in honor of Love Your Heart Month. Thanks, Mary!
I have a family history of heart disease, and as nurse I have taken care of hundreds of heart patients. So this subject is very personal to me.
I doubt if you need just another FAQ sheet that describes the signs, symptoms, and treatments of heart disease. That information is readily available on websites such as heart.org.
Although heart disease is often thought of as a problem for men, more women than men die of heart disease each year. One challenge is that the heart disease symptoms in women can be different from symptoms in men. Fortunately, though, women can take steps to understand their unique symptoms and begin to reduce their risk of heart disease.
Research shows that about 35,000 American women under 50 have a heart attack each year. An increase in heart attacks among women is seen about 10 years after menopause. We have heard about how cancer affects many women, but heart disease is actually the leading killer of women.
This topic really got my attention several years ago. The mother of one of my daughter’s best friends came home after church and said she wasn’t feeling well. Thinking she had the flu, she skipped lunch and went to bed. But her family members were stunned to find her on the bedroom floor that afternoon, not breathing and without a pulse. They called 911, and when the paramedics were unable to resuscitate her, she was placed on a gurney and taken to the hospital via ambulance. But it was too late. She was pronounced Dead On Arrival.
A similar scenario took place when a close family member woke up in the middle of the night with jaw pain. As morning approached, she began experiencing what felt like a bad case of nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath, and upper back spasms. She thought she had the flu and didn’t go to the doctor. When the symptoms escalated, her family convinced her to go to the ER. She was having a heart attack and ended up passing away soon after she arrived at the hospital. Needless to say, we all were shocked.
When we think of a heart attack, the image of an elephant on someone’s chest often comes to mind. But typically the symptoms are subtler. Often they are confused with other medical conditions.
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or completely cut off. This happens when the arteries that supply the heart with blood gradually narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, such as plaque.
Women tend to minimize their symptoms and feel reluctant to go to the ER. Don’t fool around if you are having symptoms like this! Any hospital would prefer that you come in and not be having a heart attack, than to have one at home while waiting to see if you get better.
So what’s a girl to do? Here are my Nurse’s Nuggets…bite-sized, easy to digest, easy to remember, and super-duper important. So important that they could save your life. Even when the signs are subtle, the consequences can be deadly, especially if you don’t get help right away.
Recognize the symptoms or indicators. The most common heart attack symptom in women is some type of pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest. But it’s not always severe or the most prominent symptom. Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain such as:
- Digestive Changes. This may start with basic indigestion and then escalate to severe heartburn, nausea, and vomiting.
- Shortness of Breath. An early warning sign may be windedness even when you have minimal exertion.
- Unusual Fatigue. An early warning may be waking up with extreme fatigue and then experiencing difficulty carrying out your daily activities.
- Mood Changes. This may start with unfounded anxiety and then become persistent shortness of breath and a sense of impending doom.
- Sleep Disturbance. Take notice if you experience a change in your sleep habits and difficulty falling to sleep or staying asleep.
- Weakness. This may start with symptoms similar to the flu or pneumonia.
- Blurry Vision and Headaches. These symptoms are particularly significant if accompanied by cold sweat or clammy, pale skin.
- Discomfort in Your Chest, Arms, or Hands. Pay attention if you experience pressure, discomfort, burning, pain, or symptoms like a pulled muscle in your chest. And you may be facing an impending heart attack if this increases to crushing chest pain radiating down either arm or unusual pain in your jaw, neck, or shoulder.
In the early stage of a heart incident, the symptoms may come and go. Sometimes they increase in intensity and frequency as an attack nears. With an impending heart attack, there may be six or more different symptoms that increase in intensity at the same time.
But remember: In over 40% of women who experience heart attacks, there may be no symptoms of chest discomfort at all. It’s important that you become aware of the various symptoms and indicators that are unique to women. And in the meantime, I encourage you to practicing healthy lifestyle habits to prevent disease and keep your heart in tip-top shape.
Sources: WebMD.com /heart.org/mayoclinic.org
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PLEASE NOTE: I am not a physician and cannot advise you if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Please see your doctor for a competent medical opinion if you are.
Mary Buchan RN has over 30 years of health and wellness experience. After helping a wide range of people over the years, she recently re-purposed her Nurse’s Cap as a Life Reinvention Coach, Speaker, and Author of the new book Over It – How to Live Above Your Circumstances and Beyond Yourself.
As a mid-lifer with an empty nest, she blogs about self-discovery, relationships, reinvention, and healthy living. Her motto: Make the rest of your life the best of your life. For more information, visit www.MaryBuchan.com.