art attack symptoms aren't unisex. "What we think of as characteristic heart attack pain-like an elephant sitting on your chest-is much more likely to occur in men than in women," says Marianne Legato, MD, director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University and a Prevention advisory board member. In fact, 43% of women having a coronary don't experience any chest pain at all. Because their signs are so much less obvious, women wait longer to go to the ER than men do. But that can be fatal: Your odds of surviving a heart attack improve by 23% if you get treatment within 3 hours and 50% if it's within 1 hour.
Don't become a cardiac cautionary tale. Read on for the seven heart attack warning signs women are most likely to miss. And if you do experience any or all of these, act immediately-don't delay because you're not absolutely sure it's serious. As Dr. Legato puts it: "It's better to be embarrassed than dead."
7 heart tests that can save your life
Heart Attack Red Flags
In the days or even weeks before a heart attack, more than 70% of women experience debilitating, flulike exhaustion. You may suddenly feel too tired to cook dinner or lift your laptop.
Mild pain Rather than the elephant on the chest, women may feel less severe pain-and not always in the region of the heart. Pressure or achiness can occur in the breastbone, upper back, shoulders, neck, or jaw.
Profuse sweating You may find yourself suddenly drenched in perspiration for no apparent reason, or your face may be pale or ashen.
Nausea or dizziness Prior to a heart attack, women often have indigestion or even vomit. You may also feel like you're about to pass out.
Breathlessness Almost 58% of women report panting or inability to carry on a conversation because they couldn't catch their breath.
Sleeplessness Nearly half of women have trouble falling asleep or wake up during the night in the weeks before a coronary.
Anxiety "Many women experience a sense of impending doom or fear before a heart attack," says Dr. Legato, though experts don't necessarily understand why. Nonetheless, it's real and it matters. "That's your body telling you to pay attention. Trust those instincts," she advises.
Your Three-Step Survival Plan
1. Call 911 Don't make the common mistake of driving yourself to the hospital: You're endangering yourself and others on the road. And don't ask someone else to take you. In the ambulance, treatment can begin immediately, and the driver can speed you to the nearest medical center equipped to deal with acute cardiac arrest (because not all hospitals are).
2. Take an aspirin Keep a supply of full-strength uncoated aspirin in your home and purse, and chew and swallow one with water as soon as symptoms start. This can help prevent blood clotting and the damage it causes.
3. Get pushy at the ER-or have a friend or relative be your advocate. Forcefully say, "I think I'm having a heart attack," and insist on seeing a doctor within 10 minutes of arriving. The number one reason women give for not getting medical attention-they don't want to bother anyone-doesn't improve your chances of survival. Not only should you get an EKG to check your heart function, but you should also insist on blood tests to detect heart damage, because EKGs are not always as accurate for women as they are for men. Do not leave the hospital until you've been evaluated by a cardiologist.
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