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Heart Attack: Symptoms women overlook

Heart Attack: Symptoms women overlook

  • August 16, 2019

Heart attack refers to blockade of blood flow to the heart. Contrary to the popular belief, an attack does not mean that the heart stops beating, it implies that the organ is not receiving adequate blood supply; therefore, there is increased load and impairment of function.

With time, this impaired flow of blood causes damage to the heart muscles, thereby leading to symptoms. Research has stated that over 45% cases of heart attack are ‘silent,’ which means they are not associated with any symptoms.

Prevalence in Women

A major myth associated with heart attack is that, this condition (or most of the cardiac conditions) occurs only in men. This has been attributed to the more strenuous lifestyle among males. However, over the years it has been observed that a rising number of women also suffer from heart diseases. In fact, despite the fact that heart attacks in women occur later than in men (average age of onset, 10-15 years later than in men), predominantly due to the effects of estrogen, the survival statistics are worse. According to the Indian Heart Association, a woman’s lifetime risk of dying from heart disease is eight times higher than breast cancer.

Are the symptoms same for Men and Women?

We need to clearly understand the symptoms of the condition to be able to identify a heart attack. Of importance is the fact that the symptoms differ among men and women, which is the chief cause of delayed or wrong diagnosis. In men, symptoms tend to be classical-pressure or tightness (like a constricting band) around the chest, pain in arms or back, shortness of breath, cold sweat, sudden dizziness etc.

By contrast, although the above symptoms may be seen in women, the more common/atypical ones are sweating, nausea and indigestion-like symptoms, pain in the jaw, neck pain etc. It is easy for a woman to dismiss these symptoms as those occurring due to everyday stress and fatigue. It is important to understand that heart attacks tend to occur more frequently and of lower intensity in women and such symptoms should not be ignored.

In recent times, cardiac diseases are on the rise in young individuals as well. However, heart attacks tend to occur starting from the 40s, owing to accumulation of stressors over the lifetime of the individual. Commonly, blocks in the heart, due to build-up of fat (called plaques) begin to occur in the 20s or 30s. We, as Indians, tend to ignore minor health symptoms owing to family and career-related responsibilities (especially women), not understanding that these could be warning signals of an underlying attack.

Furthermore, central obesity, which is classically associated with increased risk for heart disease is on the rise in our country (being more prevalent among women than in men). Our sedentary lifestyles, lack of activity, smoking, alcohol consumption are all associated with increased risk of a heart attack.

Women may tend to argue that they are very active, with barely any time to sit during the day; therefore, saying that they lead a sedentary lifestyle would be inappropriate. Men would argue in a similar manner, stating that outdoor work is strenuous. What we do not understand is that, a sedentary lifestyle refers to one with little or no physical activity. Working at a desk for 8-9 hours a day counts as being sedentary. Travelling for 2 hours to reach your workplace is also sedentary if you commute by a car or even sit in public transport. While cooking is demanding, it does not involve major physical stress; therefore, does not count as being active. Yes, if you clean your house by yourself (sweeping and mopping), climb up and down the stairs often during the day, or have a job that involves walking for more than 3-4 hours, you can be considered active.

Working out at the gym or at home is also a good way to stay active and fit. We need our muscles and bones to be strong, to ensure good circulation of blood to the heart, to prevent increased workload on the organ. Remember that, our heart is a pump that works 24/7, 365 days to ensure that the rest of the body receives blood for functioning.


The more we tax our heart; the organ will protest and ultimately give up on us abruptly. Eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight (watch your waistline mainly), and stay positive to prevent heart attacks.

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