Associating chest pain with heart attacks is a typical occurrence, and for good reason, but it’s not the whole story — especially for women.
While chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, women often rewrite the rules by having symptoms that have nothing to do with chest pain…Isn’t that our way?
But, but, but…We need to be on the lookout for other, subtler (read: sneaky) symptoms.
The chest pain with heart attacks itself is hardly ever as dramatic as in the movies. In fact, it may feel like a slow developing case of heartburn, sending you to your medicine cabinet instead of the Emergency Room.
BUT…Here are 3 symptoms that DO require your attention, and perhaps quick action:
1. Unusual fatigue
I know, really, I know, you’re probably busy most of the time. Maybe you have a family to care for, run a household, have a career and demanding job or take care of an aging family member. So, you feel tired most of the time. This is normal.
But you should pay attention to fatigue if it is new or dramatic. Here’s what to watch out for:
- You’re suddenly worn out after your typical exercise routine
- Even though you’re not exerting yourself, you feel very fatigued or like you have a heavy weight on your chest.
- Simple activity like making the bed, walking to the bathroom or shopping makes you excessively tired.
- And, even though you feel exceptionally tired, you don’t sleep well.
2. Sweating and/or shortness of breath
A lack of exercise and gradual weight gain as we get older cause symptoms like shortness of breath. Some women experience “hot flashes” during menopause.
But these symptoms can signal a heart problem when they happen in certain situations:
- Sudden sweating or shortness of breath without exertion
- Shortness of breath that gets worse and worse over time, after exertion
- Shortness of breath that gets worse when you’re lying down and is relieved when you prop yourself up
- A cold, clammy, sweaty feeling without a good reason
- Sweating or shortness of breath combined with other symptoms, such as chest pain or fatigue
3. Neck, jaw, back pain
As complex as our body’s systems are, they’re very good at giving us signals when there’s something wrong.
However, when there is a problem with the heart, it triggers nerves in that area, but you sometimes feel pain somewhere else!
Pain in the jaw, back or arms may signal a heart condition, especially if there’s no specific muscle or joint that aches.
Important: If the discomfort starts or gets worse when you’re exerting yourself, like when you’re exercising or going up the stairs, etc., and then stops when you quit exercising or doing the activity, you should get it checked out.
Other signs to look for:
- Unlike most men, women can have pain in either arm — not just the left one like many men.
- Be aware that pain in the lower or upper back often starts in the chest and spreads to these areas.
- The pain appears suddenly sometimes, is not related to physical exertion and can wake you up at night.
- ***Do not ignore pain that is specific to the left, lower side of the jaw.
Believe it or not, women often say they “noticed” (but didn’t pay attention to!) the symptoms of a heart attack.
The sooner you report a problem, the better the chances of preventing a full-blown heart attack.
If you experience any of these symptoms, head to the Emergency Room or visit your doctor as quickly as possible.
When you see your doctor:
- Bring a list of your symptoms and when they are happening.
- Let him or she know about any related family history.
- Talk about stress or anything going on in your life that might contribute to a problem.
Your doctor may use an electrocardiogram (EKG) to tell whether the electrical activity of your heart is normal, or an echocardiogram to view images of the heart to see if damage has occurred.
Get help right away if you have chest pain or discomfort along with any of these symptoms, especially if they last longer than five minutes:
- Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Sweating or breaking out in a “cold sweat”
- Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Light-headedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats