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Take it to heart

Women don’t always experience ‘classic’ heart attack symptoms

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Although men often experience pain and pressure during a heart attack – which they commonly describe as feeling like an elephant is sitting on their chest – women’s symptoms can be confused with other ailments.

“Women more often will present with neck pain, back pain, jaw pain, nausea and vomiting,” said Puja Parikh, an interventional cardiologist and co-director of the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Program at the Stony Brook (NY) Heart Institute. “Men tend to have [sweating] with chest pain.”

According to Mayo Clinic, women are more likely to have symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as indigestion, abdominal discomfort, unusual fatigue, dizziness or lightheadedness, and shortness of breath. Experiencing multiple symptoms simultaneously is especially concerning.

“When we see clustering of these symptoms, we really want women to go and get checked out,” Minissian said.

Parikh added that because women feel such unique symptoms, they often delay seeking care.

“I consider myself blessed,” said Lacy, who shares her story as a “Real Woman” volunteer for the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign – an initiative designed to increase heart health awareness and foster lifestyle changes among women worldwide. “I was in total denial (of the symptoms).”

Women who have heart attacks, Parikh noted, generally are older and have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease.

Minissian added that women are “wired just a little bit differently” because they bear children.

“There are about 200 different reasons why a woman could be having [symptoms],” she said. “We just want to make sure we’re ruling out the scary things first.”

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