Health Wellness
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A woman’s story of surviving a heart attack has gone viral after she tweeted her experience and warned women that her symptoms weren’t what she expected. She reported having pain across her upper body, and other symptoms included body ache and sweating. She later discovered she was having a heart attack and 95 percent of one of her main arteries was blocked.

So how exactly do heart attack symptoms vary from men to women? Here are a few things you need to know, courtesy of Dr. Maria Campos.

How common are heart attacks in women?

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, heart disease is the number one cause of premature death for women in Canada and one in three women are affected by heart disease. To put that into perspective: women are five times more likely to die from heart disease than from breast cancer.

The difference in symptoms between men and women

While the most common presentation in both men and women is chest pain – which may feel like a crushing pressure, heaviness, tightness, squeezing or discomfort – women, more often than men, will also present with pain in other areas such as the neck, jaw, shoulder, arms or back. In addition to pain, other symptoms that women more disproportionately present with are feelings of indigestion, shortness of breath, sweating, unusual or extreme fatigue, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and palpitations.

This leads to women having more difficulty recognizing their symptoms as potentially being heart attack symptoms and it also makes it difficult for health providers to recognize these symptoms as being cardiac because they don’t fit the typical textbook pattern that we all learned in school.

Preventing heart disease

In many ways prevention is very similar, when you think about the conventional risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, these are the same for men and women. Therefore the first step is to talk to your family doctor or cardiologist about these risk factors and how to control them.

In addition to that, women have some unique risk factors that increase their risk of heart disease. For example, women who are postmenopausal or transitioning to menopause, having had a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy or gestational diabetes, and in combination with other risk factors, hormone replacement therapies can also increase the risk of heart disease.