MARIETTA, Ga. - Someone has a heart attack every 43 seconds in the U.S.
Most of us think we know the drill: we'll feel a crushing chest pain, maybe break out in a cold sweat.
But, WellStar Health System cardiologist Dr. Mindy Gentry says, if you're a woman,
your heart attack may not feel like you would expect.
"The big difference, and where we see it vary between men and women, is that men are a lot more likely to have the classic chest pain, right in the middle of the chest that gets worse with physical activity and better with rest," Dr. Gentry says."Women, although they can have that type of story, are more likely have atypical symptoms."
So, instead of the crushing chest pain, women may feel pain or discomfort in other areas of their body, like pain in their jaw, shoulders, back or stomach.
And women are more likely to have more subtle symptoms, like nausea and shortness of breath.
Men often sometimes experience a dull pain, and that's where women differ again.
"Women are more likely to have sharp pain, which we don't think of as typical for heart- related pain.," she says.
Dr. Gentry says we don't know why the same blockage, in the same blood vessel can trigger such different symptoms in men and women.
"We're all wired differently," she says. "Some people, we find, that have had heart attacks never have any pain at all. Some people are wired where they just don't feel heart pain."
And because women's heart attack symptoms may not be what they expect, they may delay getting help.
The American Heart Association found only 65 percent of women surveyed said the first thing they'd do if they thought they were having a heart attack is call 911.
And Dr. Gentry says women are more likely to die from a heart attack than men.
"There are probably a lot of reasons for that," she says, "But, one reason, we think, is that women do respond differently to medications, and most of the data we have on heart disease, and particularly how we treat heart disease, most of those studies, are done on men."
If you're a woman, Dr. Gentry says, talk to your doctor about your risk factors for heart disease, and then work with your health provider to lower your risk.