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Cardiologist: Differing Heart Attack Signs for Women Can Be Misleading

Women are more likely to experience multiple heart-attack symptoms. (Adiano/Adobe Stock)
Women are more likely to experience multiple heart-attack symptoms. (Adiano/Adobe Stock)
February 28, 2020

SEATTLE - To cap American Heart Month, one doctor is putting a spotlight on the different signs of heart attacks between women and men.

Along with common symptoms, cardiologist Dr. Rachael Wyman with Kaiser Permanente in Seattle says about a quarter of women experience atypical signs such as upper back pain, shortness of breath, nausea or palpitations. Women also are more likely to have multiple symptoms.

Wyman says these uncommon signs can mislead women about their condition.

"They're to a degree or enough of these symptoms that people may think to themselves, 'I better go get this checked out' - not necessarily expecting it to be heart related," says Wyman.

In both men and women, typical heart attack symptoms include chest discomfort and radiating pain into the left arm, neck and jaw.

Women are susceptible to different types of heart conditions as well. A rare condition affects young women with fragile arteries. When a tear in the artery occurs, the symptoms are similar to a heart attack.

For older women, grief can manifest itself like a heart attack. Known as "Broken Heart Syndrome," a cardiac event typically happens after the death of a spouse or child.

Wyman says while it mimics a heart attack, Broken Heart Syndrome doesn't damage the arteries. But she adds that this illustrates the strong link between our minds and bodies.

"It really does happen," says Wyman. "Like when we have grief, it definitely can affect our body - not just in an emotional way but in a truly physical and physiologic way."

Wyman says the best ways to prevent a heart attack are not smoking, getting regular exercise, eating plenty of vegetables and finding a way to minimize stress.

Disclosure: Kaiser Health Plan of Washington Project contributes to our fund for reporting on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA