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Heart attacks: women vs. men

When people think of chest pains, they immediately associate them with heart attacks. Women, however, can experience a heart attack a bit differently.

Like men, women can experience chest pain during a heart attack. But women are more likely to experience back or jaw pain instead of, or in addition to, chest pain. Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cold sweats
  • Sense of impending doom

These symptoms are not to be taken lightly. Don’t tell yourself “it’s just the flu” or “I’ll take care of it later.”

Women have the highest mortality rates for heart attack, primarily because they downplay their symptoms and/or don’t associate them with a heart attack until it’s too late.

Seeking medical help early always increases the chances of a successful outcome, especially for patients who’ve had previous heart issues.

It’s also important to reduce your risk of heart attack, including:

  • Commit to 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week. Even a brisk walk or active household chores (like vacuuming the house) can be effective.
  • Stick to a healthy diet full of fresh produce, lower sodium, and lean meats. Avoid processed foods high in fat, salt, and/or sugar. A good rule of thumb: stay around the perimeter of a grocery store as much as possible (highly processed foods tend to be in the middle aisles).
  • Quit smoking and limit exposure to tobacco smoke.
  • Know the risk factors that increase your chances of a heart attack, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Hispanic and African-American women have a higher risk of heart attack as well.
  • Reduce stress.

Women spend much of their time taking care of others. Don’t let those responsibilities get in the way of your own health.

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