Nausea or vomiting. Unusual fatigue. Back or jaw pain. It’s easy to chalk these symptoms up to the flu or a stressful day at work. But women be warned: They are some of the less-recognizable signs of a heart attack.

“While extreme chest pain is the classic, textbook symptom of a heart attack for both sexes, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure. They can have subtle symptoms,” BCH cardiologist Molly Ware, MD told a crowd of nearly 100 people during a free health lecture held earlier this month at the Lionsgate Event Center in Lafayette.

"The danger is that women tend to minimize the ambiguous warning signs and delay care," she said. However, getting treatment right away is critical to surviving a heart attack.

Heart Attack With No Chest Pain More Likely in Women

Even though both sexes can experience these vague symptoms of a heart attack, women are more likely to have them:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Jaw, neck, arm or back pain
  • Unusual sweating
  • Extreme fatigue, weakness
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping, a sense of dread

These symptoms can occur during rest or be triggered by an event such as physical activity, extreme mental stress or even a fatty meal. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Reduce Your Risk

Dr. Ware said it’s critical to keep track of your health numbers and be aware of your risk factors for heart disease.

Also, by living a heart-healthy lifestyle women can significantly decrease their risk of heart attack. Here are some of the important actions they can take:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Controlling cholesterol & blood pressure
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing blood sugar
  • Smoking cessation
  • Improving eating habits

“Eating a varied diet that's rich in lean protein, whole grains, good fats, fruits and vegetables is the best way to protect your heart,” Dr. Ware said. “Cut back on foods with added sugar and saturated fats. Also, try to avoid animal fats such as butter, red meat and whole fat dairy products.”

Nearly 400,000 women die each year from heart disease – killing about one woman every minute. If you wish to understand your risk factors for heart disease or to be screened, schedule an appointment with Molly Ware, MD by calling (303) 442-2395.

Click here to view PowerPoint slides from Dr. Ware's lecture on "Battling Heart Disease in Women."

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