It might seem difficult to not recognize a heart attack, yet as many as four in 10 attacks may go undetected...in part because of those having a heart attack do not recognize the symptoms. Crushing chest pain is the tell-tale sign, but women may not experience that classic symptom as often as men. That may explain, according to studies, while most undetected attacks affect women.
Denial Can Be Deadly
Both genders need to know the warning signs of a heart attack and to seek immediate help if they suspect one.
"People often ignore the warning signs of a heart attack," says Dr. Rita Redberg, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Sometimes, it's a case of denial.
Other times, people wrongly write it off as indigestion or stress. But it can be deadly if you ignore a possible attack or are sent home from the emergency room with false reassurance that you are fine.
According to the American Heart Association, the warning signs of a heart attack typically include…
- Chest discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and then returns. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, full-ness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, such as pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the hack, neck, jaw or stomach. .Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- A cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.
The Gender Gap
Women are more likely than men to experience such symptoms as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
After analyzing electrocardiographs (KGs) of more than 4,000 men and women over age 55, Dutch researchers find that 43% of heart attacks go unrecognized—primarily among women.
Dr. Susan Bennett, director of George Washington University Hospital's Women's Heart program, says that even a doctor may not recognize a heart attack, especially in women. "Physicians typically under-evaluate and undertreat women," she notes.
Bennett adds that the decision to evaluate a patient for a possible heart attack depends on the "index of suspicion." Often, that suspicion is not high enough for women, she says, and when doctors see a woman who is white and thin they get that reflex that this is a lower-risk person."
Of course, even better than recognizing a heart attack early on is focusing on preventing one. 'Know your numbers," Bennett advises. That means knowing your blood pressure as well as your cholesterol levels. Focus, too, on a healthful diet and a healthful weight. Aim for a body mass index a3mi—a ratio of weight to height) below 25, which is equal to less than 150 pounds for a person 5-feet, 5-inches tall, and less than 175 pounds for a person 5-feet, 10-inches tall.