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Women & Heart Attacks

Women & Heart Attacks: What You Don't Know Can Kill You

The Statistics

Heart disease is the #1 killer of women. It kills more than 6X as many women as breast cancer.

Our risk rises dramatically after menopause. Deadly combo of risk factors: 1) family history, 2) type 2 diabetes, 3) high cholesterol, 4) high blood pressure, 5) over-weight.

More women die from their first heart attack than men.

Women with diabetes are 4X more likely to develop heart disease than men.

Diabetes doubles our risk of having that 2nd heart attack.

More women have their 2nd heart attack within 6 months than men.


Traditional male symptoms of a heart attack:
Chest pain with pain radiating down left arm could be pain,
pressure, feeling of fullness.

Women's Possible symptoms:
Pain – back, neck, jaw, face, stomach – especially if it wakes you up less than 30% of women report chest pain or discomfort lower chest or upper abdominal discomfort, sudden shortness of breath especially without exertion, sudden, cold sweats – again especially without exertion, lightheadedness, dizziness, sleep disturbances, sudden unexplained weakness – could be just arms or whole body, sudden fatigue – sudden, severe, again – without exertion, “indigestion” – especially if eaten for several hours nausea & vomiting – can be sudden and severe.
Anxiety – panic, feeling of impending doom.
Edema – especially if it is new or suddenly increases fluttering or pounding heart crushing feeling – like a band around your head, difficulty swallowing, throat feels like it is closing, heaviness in chest, arms, shoulder, flu-like symptoms – 2 weeks to a month prior to cardiac event.


Do not call your doctor – especially at night. They will just tell you to call 9-1-1.

Do not wait – Time is of the essence – the first 90 minutes can determine how much permanent damage there is to your heart.

Do NOT drive yourself to the hospital.


Call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not wait more than 5 minutes. “I don't want to bother them” – Ladies -it is their job – bother them.

ALSO: They can start meds and oxygen in the field. And when you come into the ER – you will be taken seriously. Many rigs now can do 12-lead EKG – they can help determine if it is a heart attack or something else. Even if they do not think it is a heart attack – listen to your body – have them take you if you have any doubts, say: “I think I am having a heart attack”.

Chew an aspirin unless you are allergic to it.

Make sure the door is unlocked then sit down in a chair or lay down in bed.

Emergency information – meds, physicians, family contact information
Vial of Life Project – keep it up to date

At the ER – be clear, be specific and be persistent. Describe your symptoms – be specific! Do not try to self-diagnose. If you are not comfortable with what they say – ask for a cardiologist.

Many doctors still do not realize that a woman's heart attack symptoms can be very different than a man's. This can include your primary care physician. If any of these symptoms appear, even in milder form – that is the time to get an evaluation.

LISTEN to your body – you live in it – you know it!

Laura Pearson, RN, Family Service, “Ask the Nurse” Program, Round Lake, can be reached at 847-432-4981 x47 or if you would like a health information presentation for a group.

At Family Service, the focus is on fostering human relationships and strengthening the family through customized counseling and education services. Family Service programs have been proven to address ever-changing social service needs and are open to all socio-economic backgrounds — at various stages of a person's life. For more than 80 years, Family Service has been a leader in human services for the Northern Chicago suburbs, and has made a difference in the lives of thousands of children and adults in the need of expert, caring, understanding staff and flexible, personalized services. To learn more about Family Service, visit

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