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Women - This is not your husband's heart attack - (3/6/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Betty came into the pharmacy and the pharmacist was very glad to see her. “I am so pleased that you survived your heart attack. It was a wakeup call, wasn’t it?” “Yes, it was,” Betty replied. “My heart attack was nothing like my husband Bill’s.” 

The pharmacist explained that the symptoms women have during a heart attack can be quite different from those that men experience. Both genders can have the classic, more well-known symptoms of a myocardial infarction – the medical term for a heart attack – such as cold sweats, crushing chest pains, and a sudden lightheadedness. However, some symptoms are more common in women, such as pain in the abdomen, neck, jaw, throat, or back, as well as fatigue for hours or days before the attack, shortness of breath either accompanying the chest pain or appearing alone, and/or nausea. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, these symptoms may occur during rest, begin during physical activity, or be triggered by mental stress. Take note: men who experience the so-called “women’s symptoms” should not ignore them but should also seek medical attention ASAP. Sometimes heart disease may be silent and not diagnosed until the person experiences signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, an arrhythmia, or stroke. This is why women, as well as men, should have a “heart checkup” from a doctor at least annually. 

According to the National Vital Statistics Report, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the US killing approximately 300,000 a year – that’s about 1 in every 4 female deaths and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. For example, approximately 1 in 31 deaths of women is due to breast cancer, whereas 1 in 7.5 female deaths – a 4-fold increase – is due to coronary heart disease, which causes heart attacks, says the American Heart Association. Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54% of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer. 

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49%) have at least 1 of these 3 risk factors; 90% of women have at least 1 of these risk factors. Other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. So, if you have “sugar,” a butt with its own zip code, haven’t gotten off the couch since your last burrito and beer, don’t be surprised if you drop dead halfway to the kitchen and wake up in purgatory.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health states that to reduce one’s chances of getting heart disease it is important to know one’s blood pressure and take prescribed medication if it is too high. Ask your doctor if you are fat. Get tested for diabetes which is a risk factor for heart disease. Snuff out the cancer sticks. Find out what your cholesterol and triglycerides levels are. Make healthy food choices. Pizza is not a food group; potato chips are not vegetables. Also, lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress. 

“Stress!” laughed Betty. “That’s why Bill and I do not watch political news shows before bedtime anymore. They were making our blood pressures shoot through the roof!”   

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com


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