Could I be having a heart attack?

August 19, 2019
Woman at desk rubbing back of neck

Heart attack symptoms can be different and surprising for different people, and it’s important to spot them early in order to get medical treatment right away. Here to discuss this topic is the Director of Noninvasive Cardiology and Director of the GW Women’s Health Center Jannet Lewis, MD, FACC.

Are women’s symptoms different from men’s?

A heart attack can be characterized by chest pain, often a dull heaviness in the chest, but it’s not the only symptom. Any pain in the upper part of the body, including the arms, the neck, the jaw, the upper abdomen and sometimes the back may be signs. Women are more likely to have symptoms other than chest pain; often they feel nauseated, profound fatigue, shortness of breath or lightheadedness, and not the typical chest heaviness radiating down the left arm that men typically have.

What factors might put me at risk?

The big ones are smoking, elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Also, obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity can increase risk. Family history plays a significant role, especially if heart attack occurred at a relatively young age. It’s important to remember there are things you can do to modify your risk factors.

What if I think I’m having a heart attack, but I’m not sure?

Call 911 right away. The outcome after a heart attack is directly related to how quickly you get to the hospital. Having access to a hospital with a team approach to managing a heart attack is very important. GW University Hospital has a very refined mechanism in place to move patients quickly to the cath lab to open blocked vessels that cause a heart attack.

What other specialty cardiac care does GW Hospital provide?

Within the comprehensive GW Heart program, we see a number of patients with heart failure, and the hospital now offers a program to treat patients with left ventricular assisted device (LVAD) technology. The hospital also has a very successful program for transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). These are two examples of advanced care that can meaningfully improve patients’ lives.

GW Hospital is also the first in the region to use the Inari FlowTriever® System to remove blood clots.

Women and heart disease

Heart disease does not discriminate based on gender. One in three women will die from cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association®. Also, heart attacks are increasingly occurring in younger people, especially women, according to new research.*

Talk with your doctor about your risks and how to stay healthy.

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*American Heart Association