By: Tanvi Maharaja
Heart attacks, as depicted through movies and television, characteristically depict a man grabbing the left side of his chest in seemingly agonizing pain. There has been substantial awareness about heart disease and any man with “crushing’ left-sided chest pain, going into his left arm or the left side of the jaw, is quick to seek medical attention. In women, however, cardiac symptoms differ to a great extent. Their pain may be on the left side of the chest, or the abdomen, or in between the shoulder blades, or even on the right side of the chest. At times, there may be no chest pain at all.
Women may present with some symptoms that men experience too:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain with exertion
These symptoms are now pretty well-known in our society and culture at large, and hence, more identifiable.
However, there are some atypical symptoms that are unique to women:
- No chest pain, or chest pain induced in response to emotional stress, or even at sleep/rest.
- Some women may experience difficulty sleeping, which for them, is either very unusual, or more severe than normal.
- Others may notice cold, clammy skin.
- Women have also been known to report dizziness, fatigue, or lightheadedness in the absence of any recognizable causative factor.
- What may seem to be simple indigestion or heartburn, can be a sign of cardiac issues in women.
Since these symptoms are uncharacteristic of your “typical” chest-grabbing, left-side-radiating-crushing pain, they are often not reported in time. Women, perhaps, tend to keep going, ignoring these as minor aches and pains, causing significant delay in the care they should receive. Thousands of women die each year due to inability to identify these symptoms and/or report them.
The Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support suggests dialing 911 right away if women have these symptoms. Driving to a hospital is not advisable as it can be dangerous to drive, and postponing care can be fatal.
Go Red For Women
The American Heart Association has launched an initiative called Go Red for Women, to raise awareness of heart health among the general public. The AHA recognizes a woman as Going Red if she exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet, is regular with her doctors’ appointments, and inspires other women to be heart-healthy. Their website has a plethora of information for identifying, treating, preventing, and recovering from heart conditions. They welcome donations to continue with this social initiative that has saved thousands of female lives.
In 2020, February 7th is the Go Red for Women day. Let us all join forces to raise awareness about cardiac health, and take measures to address it. Prevention is always better than cure, hence regular exercise and a healthy diet go a long way to keeping us all heart-healthy. Each of us can be an example and influence our friends and family for a positive change.
So, will you Go Red this year?