Heart attack prevention: options for women

Did you know that women are more likely than men to die after their first heart attack?

Learn more about how heart attack symptoms, risk factors, and prevention differ between men and women.

Risk factors

Some risk factors for heart attacks are the same for men and women (to learn more about risk factors, see "Are you at risk for a heart attack?").

But women also have some unique heart attack risk factors, including:

  • endometriosis
  • menopause (menopause itself is not a risk factor, but changes that occur with menopause can be)
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • use of birth control pills (in some women only, such as those who already have high blood pressure, especially if they are over 35 years old, those who already have a blood clotting problem, and those who have other risk factors for heart attacks)
  • pregnancy (some women develop high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy, which could increase their risk of heart attacks later on)

Symptoms

Women may describe or experience heart attacks differently from men:

  1. Women tend to be older than men when they suffer their first heart attack. This could also be why they are more likely to die after their first heart attack.
  2. Women may be less likely than men to realize they have had a heart attack due to a lack of symptoms ("silent heart attacks").
  3. Women may experience different heart attack symptoms than men. The most common symptom is chest pain (like men), but women may be more likely to have back pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea, or unexplained fatigue during a heart attack. As well, they may describe their pain differently from men.
  4. Women tend not to report symptoms to their doctor or they may be reluctant to seek medical care for their heart attack symptoms and may wait longer before getting treatment (about 2 to 4 hours longer on average, which can limit their access to certain heart attack treatments that work best when they are used shortly after a heart attack).
  5. Women are more likely than men to die after their first heart attack.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of these warning signs of a heart attack, you should follow these steps:

  • Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately. If you can't make the call, have someone call for you.
  • Stop all activity. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  • Chew and swallow one 325 mg ASA tablet (acetylsalicylic acid) or two 81 mg tablets (low dose ASA, such as Entrophen® and various other brands) if you are experiencing chest pain. It is important to chew or crush the tablet so that the medication works quickly. Make sure that tablets are not enteric-coated. Chewing an ASA tablet at the first signs of a heart attack can reduce the risk of death. Other pain relievers such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil®) do not work the same way as ASA and therefore will not help in emergency situations such as heart attack.
  • If you take nitroglycerin (e.g., Nitrolingual® pumpspray, other brands), take it as directed by your doctor to relieve chest pain.
  • Rest comfortably while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive.

To protect yourself, learn the warning signs of a heart attack and what you should do, and talk to your doctor about whether you're at risk.

Prevention

It’s never too late to lower your risk of heart attack. Women should get regular exercise at least for 30 minutes everyday or 150 minutes per week. It could be walking, dancing, swimming or cycling, depending on your preference. Changing habits like climbing stairs instead of taking elevators could also be a good start.

Eating healthy is also very important. Try to include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products while limiting red meat and foods with refined sugars.

Because of past misconceptions that heart disease, which can lead to heart attack, occurred mainly in men, women were less likely to be identified as being "at risk" of a heart attack and less likely to receive interventions to prevent a heart attack. This situation is improving as we learn more about heart attacks in women.

Women may also respond to some preventive therapies (medications to help reduce the risk of heart attacks) differently from men.

Speak to your doctor about your risk of a heart attack, steps you can take to reduce your risk, and preventive therapies that you may want to consider.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2022. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Heart-Attack-Prevention-Options-for-Women