Heart Attack Symptoms in Women Over 50

It has been a known fact that the occurrence of heart attacks is higher in men than in women. The latter enjoy a comparatively better heart health owing to high levels of estrogen in their pre-menopausal years. This female hormone leads to high levels of HDL – High Density Lipoproteins – commonly known as the “good” cholesterol. However, as menopause strikes, women become just as vulnerable to heart diseases as men. The risk of having a heart attack keeps on increasing as the age of 50 is crossed. It is, therefore, important for women to know what the symptoms of this fatal disease are.

Studies have shown that heart attack symptoms in women are different from those in men. The following discussion explains these differences along with important facts.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women Over 50

Heart Attack Symptoms – Typical and Atypical

The symptoms of heart attack fall into two categories. The typical symptoms are experienced in almost all the cases and are a clear indication of the disease. On the other hand, atypical symptoms occur less commonly. The latter are, therefore, often ignored or misinterpreted as something less serious. However, it is important to identify both types of symptoms so that immediate medical help can be sought.

Typical Symptoms

  • The biggest sign of a heart attack is chest pain. It may be experienced as pressure on the chest, a squeezing sensation or stabbing pain. The pressure or pain usually radiates from the center to the left region of the chest.
  • The second most common symptom of the disease is discomfort or pain in the arms. Although sufferers may experience the discomfort in both the arms, it is more commonly felt in the left one. It occurs as the chest pain spreads to the nearby regions of the body. Consequently, the discomfort is also felt in the neck and jaws.
  • The victims also commonly complain about experiencing nausea. In extreme cases, vomiting may also occur.
  • Since the heart is in a restrained state, fatigue occurs as a common sign of the condition. Shortness of breath occurs even if the victim is in a state of rest.

Atypical Symptoms

  • Abdominal discomfort is experienced which may be misinterpreted as a digestive issue.
  • Victims may experience profuse sweating which occurs even without any physical exertion.
  • Lightheadedness is felt. Victims may feel dizzy. In extreme cases, the sufferer may also faint.
  • As an extension of the chest pain, toothache may also occur.
  • A weak pulse is considered a symptom of heart attack. The heartbeat may become irregular.
  • Owing to all the prevailing symptoms, the victim of a heart attack may begin to feel unusual anxiety and stress.

Difference of Symptoms between Men and Women

Although the major symptoms are the same, women usually experience them differently as compared to men. These differences are discussed below.

  • Chest pain or discomfort is reported as the first clear sign of a heart attack. Although this is true in the case of men, most women may not experience this symptom at all. This has been proved by a study carried out at the University of Maryland Medical Center in 2003. An entire 43% of the 515 women subjects of the study reported no chest discomfort during a heart attack.
  • The same study showed that over 50% women complained about shortness of breath and weakness while over 40% experienced extreme fatigue. Therefore, these are some of the most common heart attack symptoms in women over 50 which should not be overlooked.
  • Marcus St. John – an interventional cardiologist at the Baptist Cardiac and Vascular Institute of South Florida, United States – stated that women experience the atypical symptoms of a heart attack more commonly as compared to the typical symptoms. This has also been proved by several studies and reports by many other doctors as well.
  • The Nursing School at the University of Rochester, New York has revealed through a study that women are twelve times more likely to suffer from throat discomfort during a heart attack as compared to men.

Facts and Statistics

  • According to a report published by the California Department of Public Health for 2000 - 2008, the number of women suffering from heart attack increased as they crossed the age of 50. This number exceeded the number of men for age above 85.
  • According to the American College of Cardiology, more deaths occurred in men due to heart diseases in 2008. However, the disease was also the leading cause of death among women in the same year.
  • Over two hundred thousand cases of death occur due to heart attack in women all over the world. This number exceeds the number of deaths which occur owing to breast cancer. This data was revealed by the American College of Cardiology.
  • The American Heart Association took data from 190 countries to reveal that heart diseases are the major cause of death in the world among both men as well as women.

Important Considerations

Given all the information and facts about heart attack and its symptoms, women over 50 should understand their condition and look out for the warning signs. The following important considerations should be taken into account.

  • Since women are more likely to experience the atypical symptoms of a heart attack, they are often slower at seeking immediate help as compared to men. This is because these symptoms are often misinterpreted as indigestion, flu or general weakness. However, be warned that the more time you take to seek medical help, the greater the damage would be. As a consequence, treatment would take a longer time while the risk of death would increase.
  • Although there are gender differences regarding the symptoms of heart attack and how they are experienced, the diagnosis is same for both men as well as women. This has been pointed out in the Encyclopedia of Heart Diseases by M. Gabriel Khan. Therefore, women should ask for an ECG test for confirmation if they are experiencing the less common signs of the diseases instead of the classic chest pain symptom.
  • Over the age of 50, women with high blood pressure, obesity or a stressful lifestyle have higher risks of a heart attack. Therefore, such women should be wary of both the typical as well as the atypical symptoms.

About the Author

Posted by: M. Isaac / Senior writer

A graduate in biological sciences and a PhD scholar (NCBA&E University, Lahore), M. Isaac combines his vast experience with a keen and critical eye to create practical and inherently engaging content on the human body. His background as a researcher and instructor at a secondary school enables him to best understand the needs of the beginner level learners and the amateur readers and educate them about how their body works, and how they can adopt a healthier lifestyle.

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