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Deadliest Heart Attack Takes Toll on Women

Study: Women Twice as Likely to Die of Most Serious Type of Heart Attack

Symptoms Often Subtle

Unlike men, many women don't experience severe, crushing chest pain when they are having a heart attack. Their symptoms are often much less obvious, and this can lead to delays in seeking help and in diagnosis and treatment, study co-author and UCLA professor of cardiovascular medicine Gregg C. Fonarow, MD, tells WebMD.

"Any woman who suspects she is having a heart attack needs to call 911 immediately," he says.

Recognize the Signs

So when should a woman suspect she is having a heart attack?

WebMD asked two NYU Medical Center cardiologists who specialize in treating women: Nieca Goldberg, MD, and Jennifer Mieres, MD.

The classic symptoms like chest pain, back pain, and/or deep-aching arm pain should raise suspicions. But other common symptoms include:

  • Extreme shortness of breath. "Feeling like you've run a marathon when you've barely exerted yourself at all," Goldberg says.
  • Clamminess and sweating.
  • Dizziness, unexplained lightheadedness, and even blackouts.
  • Unshakable extreme anxiety.
  • Nausea or other gastric upset.

Whether you experience all of these symptoms or just a few, Goldberg says one way to recognize a heart attack is that the symptoms will be relentless.

"Nothing that you do will make them go away," she says. "That's when you know it's time to call 911."

Both doctors agree that anyone who suspects they may be having a heart attack should get to a hospital and have an electrocardiogram (EKG) immediately.

Although the STEMI event is the most deadly heart attack, it is also the easiest to diagnose with an EKG, Goldberg says.

"This is no time to be shy," says Mieres, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

"The first thing you should say is, 'I think I'm having a heart attack.' Those are the magic words that should get you an EKG," she says.

Time is of the essence when you are having a heart attack. Seeking and receiving medical help quickly can make the difference between life and death.

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