HEALTHY LIVING: Heart attack symptoms can differ for men, women

The first steps toward surviving a heart attack are recognizing the symptoms, which can differ in men and women, and seeking medical help immediately.

Chest pain is a major symptom for both genders even though some people (the elderly, people with diabetes) may experience no chest pain at all. Others feel pain in only one part of the body, or it may move from their chest to their arms, shoulder, neck, teeth, jaw, belly area or back. The pain can be severe or mild. It can feel like a tight band around the chest, like something heavy sitting on your chest, or even feel like bad indigestion.

Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries that bring blood and oxygen to the heart. If the blood flow is blocked, the heart starves for oxygen and heart cells die.

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms of heart attack for men and women include: anxiety, coughing, fainting, light-headedness or dizziness, palpitations (feeling like your heart is beating too fast or irregularly), shortness of breath and sweating, which may be extreme.

Many women report feeling flu-like symptoms, like unusual fatigue or vomiting, before experiencing the more-typical symptoms. More information about women and heart attack is on the National Women’s Health Center website:

Men and women should always respond immediately to a heart attack because it is a life-threatening medical emergency. Call 911. Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital if you are suffering a heart attack.

Meanwhile, everyone can take steps to decrease individual risks for heart attack and cardiovascular disease:

• keep your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol under control.

• quit smoking.

• eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in animal fat.

• eat fish twice a week. Baked or grilled fish is better than fried fish, as frying can destroy some health benefits.

• exercise daily or at least several times a week (talk with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen). Walking is a good form of exercise because it improves circulation, promotes weight loss and elevates your mood while reducing stress and blood pressure.

• lose weight if you are overweight for your height and age.

Evaluate your risk for heart attack by taking our HeartAware test online, free of charge, at

While heart attack symptoms can differ in men and women, heart disease is the No. 1 killer for both genders in the United States.

The author of the above article, Dr. James Merrill, practices family medicine at Enumclaw Medical Center, which is affiliated with Franciscan Medical Group and St. Elizabeth Hospital. Enumclaw Medical Center phone number: 360-825-6511.

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