Dr Angie Brown
Medical Director, Irish Heart Foundation and Consultant Cardiologist
When you picture a heart attack you may think of someone clutching their chest, but in reality, this may not always be the case. Knowing the signs of a heart attack, in both women and men, may save a life.
What is a heart attack?
The coronary arteries supply your heart muscles with oxygen containing blood, however they can become narrowed from a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances that form plaque.
A heart attack happens when the artery suddenly becomes blocked so the flow of blood to the heart stops. The heart muscle supplied by that artery will die unless the blood supply resumes quickly.
The image of a man clutching his chest may come to mind when you hear heart attack but in reality, chest pain may not even occur in some cases
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person, but men and women can have different experiences during a heart attack. The image of a man clutching his chest may come to mind when you hear heart attack but in reality, chest pain may not even occur in some cases.
Jaw pain, left arm pain, profound fatigue, weakness, nausea, cold sweats or shortness of breath can also be signs of a heart attack. These symptoms can come on suddenly or may start slowly and persist for hours.
Worryingly heart attack in women is often missed as the symptoms can be different from that in men. In fact, most women think they are going to die from breast cancer when they are six times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
The symptoms of a heart attack in women can be quite vague making it hard to diagnose. They can include nausea, tiredness, shortness of breath, back pain or tightness in the jaw rather than the familiar scenario of a crushing pain in the chest that shoots down one arm.
If you or someone you are with are experiencing a heart attack, you should contact the emergency services immediately.
How to reduce my risk of heart attack?
There is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of heart attack. Identifying and managing risk factors early on could help lower your risk of a heart attack in the future. These lifestyle changes will make you more heart healthy.
- Be active
- Eat well
- Watch your weight
- Stop smoking
- Know your family history
It’s also important to get your blood glucose checked and your blood pressure and cholesterol should be checked regularly too.
How to deal with a heart attack?
Having a heart attack can be a frightening experience. Modern medical and interventional treatment means that many people fully recover after their heart attack.
In a heart attack every minute matters. Not all symptoms of a heart attack are always present. If only some are present, don’t wait. If you think you are having a heart attack, get help quickly and dial 999.