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Article title: Heart Attack: NWHIC
What is a heart
Do women have to worry about having a heart attack?
How can I tell if I am having a heart attack?
Are symptoms of a heart attack different in women?
What should I do if I think I am having a heart attack?
Why is prompt treatment so important?
Emergency medical personnel cause such a commotion. Can't I just have my wife/husband/friend/coworker take me to the hospital?
How is a heart attack treated?
If I have had one heart attack, will I have another one?
Is it safe to have sex after a heart attack?
Why is exercise so important after a heart attack?
How can I prevent a heart attack?
I carry nitroglycerin pills all the time for my heart condition. If I have heart attack symptoms, shouldn't I try them first?
What about taking an aspirin like we see on television?
See also . . .
A heart attack occurs when there is a severe blockage in an artery that carries oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. The blockage is usually caused by the buildup of plaque (deposits of fat-like substances, or atherosclerosis) along the walls of the arteries. The sudden lack of blood flow to the heart muscle deprives the heart of needed oxygen and nutrients. If the blockage is not opened quickly, the heart muscle is likely to suffer serious, permanent damage as areas of tissue die.
The medical term for a heart attack is acute myocardial infarction. Acute means sudden, myo refers to muscle, and cardia refers to heart. The myocardium is the medical name for the heart muscle. Infarct refers to the artery being plugged or clogged up.1
Heart disease—the cause of heart attack—is the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States. The onset of heart disease is later in women than men due to the protective effects of female hormones before menopause. Women are also more likely to have additional health conditions (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.) that increase their risk for more heart attacks.
Although heart attack symptoms vary from person to person, a classic warning sign for women is chest pain (great pressure, heaviness, fullness, squeezing or crushing pain in the chest). Women may experience other symptoms, including sweating, nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, unexplained anxiety, palpitations, paleness, lightheadedness or fainting. Pain or discomfort may also be felt in the back, shoulders, jaw, neck, or arms.
Not all women and men experience heart attacks the same. Women can have the classic warning sign—chest pain—but they also report having other symptoms such as sweating, nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, palpitations, lightheadedness, fainting or even pain or discomfort in the back, shoulders, jaw, neck, or arms.
Women may describe pain or discomfort somewhat differently from men, and may be more likely to think they are just having indigestion. Women who experience a heart attack are also known to wait longer than men to call for help. In addition, some studies have shown that women who tell their health care provider about their heart attack symptoms are not always treated as aggressively as men with similar symptoms. Failure to recognize or believe that a heart attack is taking place is a big problem for both men and women and leads to dangerous delays in seeking treatment.
Call or have someone else call 911. Don't delay. New medical treatments can stop heart attacks in its track. Don't wait because you think it will be embarrassing if it turns out not to be a heart attack! Treatments are most effective if given within one hour of when the attack begins. However, only 1 in 5 patients get to the hospital emergency department within one hour of when their heart attack symptoms begin.
The longer you wait to get medical treatment, the greater the likelihood that you will have severe, permanent damage to your heart or even die. The earlier the treatment, the more likely it is that damage to your heart will be kept to a minimum.
Emergency medical personnel—also called EMS, for emergency medical services—bring medical care to you. For example, they bring oxygen and medications. And they can actually restart someone's heart if it stops after they arrive. Your wife/husband/friend/coworker can't do that, or help you if they are driving. In the ambulance, there are enough people to give you the help you need and get you to the hospital right away.
Once it is clear that a person is having a heart attack, immediate treatment usually includes drugs to help open the blocked artery, get blood flowing well to the heart muscle, and keep the blood from clotting again. Other treatment depends on the severity of the condition and the amount of damage the heart may have sustained, but may involve drugs, surgery, and other procedures. Cardiac rehabilitation programs are offered in most communities to help people recover from a heart attack and reduce the chances of having another attack.
The odds of women having a second heart attack are relatively high. In fact, more women than men will suffer a second heart attack within four years after having their first attack. That is why it is important to continue with medical follow-up treatment, participate in cardiac rehabilitation if possible, and make needed lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking and starting an exercise program) to reduce the risk of another heart attack. If you had an unhealthy lifestyle before your heart attack, it is time to change your ways! Talk to your health care provider about diet, weight control, exercise, managing stress, and controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Most heart attack survivors are able to return to their usual sexual activities after recovering from their heart attack, just as they are able to return to other kinds of physical activity and to work. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about when you should resume sexual activity. It is normal to have fears about having another heart attack during sex, but this isn't likely to happen if you have recovered and are following your medical treatment plan.
Exercise is good for your heart muscle and overall health. It can help you lose weight, keep your cholesterol and blood pressure under control, reduce stress, and lift your mood. If you participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program, you will learn how to exercise safely and regularly to strengthen your heart and body. When exercising, you will need to watch out for signs of problems such as chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling dizzy or weak, irregular heartbeats, or cold sweats. If you develop these symptoms, stop exercising and call 911 for help right away.
There are many things you can do to prevent heart disease and stay healthy. You probably already know what they are—not smoking, eating a heart healthy diet, getting plenty of regular exercise, keeping your weight under control, getting regular medical checkups, managing stress in your life, and controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also important for women to control other diseases they may have, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Talk to your health care provider about your risks for heart disease, appropriate screening tests, and ask what steps you can take to improve your heart health. Daily aspirin therapy or other medical treatment may be an option for you to help prevent heart disease and heart attack.
Yes, if your doctor has prescribed nitroglycerin pills, you should follow your doctor's orders. If you are not sure about how to take your nitroglycerin when you get chest pain, check with your doctor.
You should not delay calling 9-1-1 to take an aspirin. (Studies have shown that people sometimes delay seeking help if they take an aspirin or other medicine). Emergency department personnel will give people experiencing a heart attack an aspirin as soon as they arrive. So, the best thing to do is to call 9-1-1 immediately and let the professionals give the aspirin.
1Myocardial infarction, acute: An acute myocardial infarction (AMI) is a heart attack. The term "myocardial infarction" focuses on the heart muscle (the myocardium) and the changes that occur in it due to sudden (acute) deprivation of circulating blood. The main change is death (necrosis) of myocardial tissue. The interruption of blood is usually caused by arteriosclerosis with narrowing of the coronary arteries, the culminating event being a thrombosis (clot). The word "infarction" comes from the Latin "infarcire" meaning "to plug up or cram." It refers to the clogging of the artery. (The clogging frequently is initiated by cholesterol piling up on the inner wall of the blood vessels that distribute blood to the heart muscle.) Source: https://www.medterms.com/script/main/Art.asp?li=MT&ArticleKey=7490
You can find out more about heart attacks and related topics by contacting the National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) and the following resources:
For additional information on Heart Attacks, and related topics:
Act in Time to Heart Attack Signs Campaign
National Heart Attack Alert Program
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
American Heart Association
American Society of Echocardiography
For additional information and resources on heart attack, log on to the National Women's Health Information Center web site at https://www.4woman.gov/ or call 1-800-994-WOMAN (TDD: 1-800-994-9662).
Publication date: 2001
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