Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death in both men and women. However, as research into heart attacks continues, it has emerged that women experience heart attacks very differently from men.
This is why it’s so important that you know what a heart attack looks like in a woman, as there may be signs that you miss.
Let’s take a closer look at what causes heart attacks in women and why they happen, the symptoms of heart attacks in women, and why they can present differently in women.
What causes heart attacks in women?
There are many risk factors involved when it comes to what causes heart attacks in women. For instance, age, lifestyle, and other health conditions can play a role. It’s worth noting that these can impact men and women differently, with some of them increasing the risk more in women than in men.
The common causes of heart attacks in women are:
- High blood glucose
Unlike men, it’s actually less common for women to have heart attacks related to coronary heart disease (CHD). This can make it more difficult for the signs of a heart attack to be spotted at first, as they don’t show the ‘usual’ signs of heart disease.
Signs of heart attack in women
People tend to know the common symptoms of a heart attack, with the most well-known one being chest pain. However, women are more likely to experience other sorts of symptoms when having a heart attack than men.
Heart attacks in women can present as chest pain and other symptoms like:
- Neck and jaw pain
- Shoulder pain
- Upper back or stomach discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and/or vomiting
This is why it’s important to know all the symptoms of a heart attack in women, as they could be caught earlier. While these symptoms could also be felt by men, it’s worth noting that they’re more often experienced by women.
If you experience the symptoms of a heart attack, it’s vital that you call 999 immediately to seek medical treatment.
Are heart attacks more common in males or females?
Coronary heart disease is often considered a man’s disease. However, women are still at risk of heart attacks — twice as many women die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer in the UK every year.
Recent findings have shown that while men are more likely to experience coronary heart disease at a younger age and have a higher risk of developing CHD than women, women are still at a high risk of heart failure and heart attack death.
Recent BHF-funded research found that when it comes to heart attacks:
- Women often delay seeking medical help, which can reduce their chance of survival
- Women are 50% more likely to receive a wrong initial diagnosis when they are having a heart attack
- Women were less likely to receive standard treatments including bypass surgery and stents
- Women often receive poorer aftercare, following a heart attack
Perhaps most shockingly of all, the research estimates that more than 8,200 women in England and Wales died over a ten-year period because they did not receive equal treatment to men.
So, while it’s important to note that anyone can have a heart attack, it’s the symptoms and outcome that can greatly differ.
Why do women have different heart attack symptoms?
Typically, women have smaller hearts and arteries, which may partially explain why heart attack symptoms are different in women and why they experience different sensations when having a heart attack.
Research has found that between 30% and 37% of women didn’t experience chest pain or discomfort when having a heart attack. This just goes to show how different heart attacks can be for men and women.
Other atypical heart attack symptoms that women experience can be:
- Feeling pain in the middle/upper back
- Pain in the neck and jaw
- Decreased appetite
- Heart palpitations
These differences between symptoms could be caused by a number of different factors, but it has been suggested that it could be because of other heart conditions that a woman may already have. Women are more likely to develop heart conditions like cardiac angina, which could possibly lead to different symptoms when combined with a heart attack.
How to check your heart health
When it comes to heart attacks, heart disease prevention is the best medicine. One way to help keep your heart health in good condition is to have regular full health check-ups. This can help to find and diagnose any possible problems before they develop and lead to heart attacks.
There are many tests that you can have to check your heart health. These include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – this test your heart rate, rhythm, and electrical activity
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI )– this scan will show medical professionals a deeper look at your organs
- Echocardiogram – sometimes known as an echo test, this check allows a clear picture of your heart health to be created
- CT Coronary Angiogram – looks at the heart and its arteries and is the gold standard of looking at the health of your heart.
There are many different heart health checks that you can have, and they can be extremely beneficial when it comes to maintaining and decreasing your risk of a heart attack. The tests can also help you discover any underlying heart conditions that you may have, allowing you to seek treatment sooner rather than later.
At Echelon Health, we provide a range of screenings that can help you to keep your heart health in check. If you are concerned primarily with only your heart health, we offer the Healthy Heart assessment which includes the following scans:
- Medical questionnaire
- Blood tests
- CT coronary angiogram
- Final consultation
However, for a more holistic approach to women’s health we have also created the Cullinan Assessment. The Cullinan Assessment is designed for women who are 40 years of age or older and is intended to allow for early detection of diseases associated with this stage of life as well as the diseases that are the leading causes of premature death in women, including coronary heart disease. The following scans are part of this assessment:
- Medical questionnaire
- Comprehensive bloods + Hormonal Profile + cancer markers
- Digital mammogram
- Transvaginal Ultrasound
- CT Coronary angiogram
- CT Chest
- CT Bone Density
- Full Body Mole Check
- Final consultation
Get in touch with our team of experts at Echelon Health, and discover what assessments and tests can help you take control of your health. We are always happy to assist with your questions and arranging your health assessments.