Women and Heart Attacks: The Silent Heart Attack

Woman experiencing neck pain symptoms commonly found in silent heart attacks.What images pop into your mind when you think of a heart attack? Stopping mid-step and grabbing your chest? Gasping for breath as you fall to the ground? Yelling out, “I’m having a heart attack!” as someone runs for help?

Surprisingly, this kind of scenario only occurs in a small fraction of heart attacks. In most cases, many people won’t even know they had a heart attack. This is known as a silent heart attack. Because of the subtle and confusing signs, many people, especially women, attribute heart attack symptoms to less life-threating conditions, such as acid reflux, the flu, anxiety or just general aging. This factor has led to heart disease being the number one killer of women in the United States.1

Signs to Look For

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptoms are discomfort, uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. However, women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms. Subtle and unusual signs may include:

  • Shortness of breath without exertion
    It is sometimes described “as though you ran a marathon” even though you are doing normal, everyday activities.2
  • Cold sweat or stress sweat
    Sudden sweating that occurs without exertion or reason for stress
  • Pain or discomfort in other areas than the chest, such as the neck, jaw, arms or back
    Women can feel pain in either arm, unlike men who usually get it in their left arm.
  • Nausea/vomiting

A silent heart attack occurs when the flow of blood is blocked in the coronary arteries by a buildup of plaque. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, history of heart disease, obesity and age, similar to the factors of a recognized heart attack. However, silent heart attacks can be just as dangerous or even more dangerous than an obvious heart attack.

Scarring and damage to the heart associated with heart attacks puts people at greater risk of future heart problems. However, since the person didn’t know to seek treatment, blood flow to the heart might not have been restored properly or early enough. Additionally, no medication was administered, so the impact could be even greater.

When it comes down to it, trust your gut. If you feel something is wrong, don’t brush it off. Call 9-1-1 right away or find an emergency room near you.

When you’re having an emergency, you want the quickest and closest care possible. At St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital, you can expect low-wait times at a facility right in your neighborhood. With fast turnaround times on testing and medications, we can address the problem quickly and get you treated right away. Find the St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital location nearest you.

This blog post was written in honor of Heart Health Month and Go Red for Women. For more information about heart health and tips on heart disease prevention, visit www.stvincent.org/heart-health-blog.