Heart Attack 101: Warning Signs In Men and Women

Stroke and heart attack are the primary causes of death on a global scale. 

Experts estimate that 7.3 million deaths worldwide happened because of coronary heart disease (CHD), and 6.2 million resulted from a stroke back in 2018. 

By 2030, roughly 23.6 million individuals may lose their life to cardiovascular disease (CVD) annually.

Luckily, both stroke and heart attack can have better outcomes with on-time treatment. This is exactly what makes it important for people to recognize the signs of a heart attack. 

These red flags can help anyone identify a heart issue and get early treatment. Spotting heart attack symptoms reduce morbidity and mortality rates. 

What is a Heart Attack?

This myocardial infarction happens the moment the heart, or a portion of the heart muscle, stops getting adequate blood flow. Most of the time, cholesterol, fat buildup, or other substances cause a stir, forcing plaque to form in the arteries. 

This blockage disrupts normal heart function. Roughly 750,000 heart attacks happen on a yearly basis. 

It is different from a cardiac arrest, which means the heart has stopped beating and must be restarted. While cardiac arrest is an electrical issue caused by heart rhythm disruption, a heart attack is a circulatory complication. 

Since the patient affected can’t treat themselves, it’s up to bystanders to take immediate action and call emergency services. The sooner the affected individual receives care, the better their chances of survival. But, there is one problem. Many people are unaware of the signs of a heart attack. 

According to a recent survey, 47.2% of American adults could list all five typical symptoms. That means a major portion of the population lacked awareness and knowledge to respond properly in 2014. 

Although appropriate awareness has increased over the years, it’s still vital to show people how to recognize every symptom and risk factor associated with heart or heart disease. 

Heart Attack in Men 

About 7.1% (1 in 14) of Black men and 7.7% (1 in 13) white men experience coronary heart disease. The numbers, however, are much lower in the Hispanic population, affecting roughly 5.9% (1 in 17) of men. 

This shows that a patient’s ethnicity can increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) or problems with blood flow. 

Warning Signs

Recognizing the indicators of heart attack can drastically affect the patient’s odds of survival. These heart attack warning signs include:

  • Discomfort or ache in the back, jaw, neck, arms, or shoulders

  • Discomfort or chest pain at the left side or center of the chest that persists well over a couple of minutes. It can subside and return. The chest discomfort feels like aches, squeezes, fullness, or sudden chest pressure. 

  • Inability to take deep breaths 

Male patients describe chest pain as a crushing sensation or weight to the chest. When a man is under stress, the coronary artery constricts, increasing their blood pressure. In other words, gender matters and can affect treatment and symptom outcomes of coronary artery disease (CAD).

The condition affects the blood vessel network. When there is a blockage in the artery, the blockage ends up stripping the organ of valuable nutrients and oxygen. So, it’s essential to restore coronary artery function and manage the blood clot.    

Heart Attack in Women

The heart in women and men might look similar. But, some differences can impact a heart attack. For instance, the heart in a female patient tends to be smaller. The walls dividing some of the interior chambers are thinner. 

Although the heart pumps quicker, it expels roughly 10% less blood with every squeeze compared to a man’s heart. 

Warning signs

When under stress, a woman’s pulse rate goes through the roof, and the organ pumps more blood. This affects the signs of a heart attack, which include:

  • Aches or discomfort in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back

  • Discomfort or chest pain, typically more subtle compared to men

  • Shortness of breath

Women are typically older than men when they experience their first heart attack. Estrogen provides the female body with some level of protection from the disease that affects the heart. 

But, that’s until they reach menopause, which forces the estrogen to plummet. As a result, the average age for a heart attack is 66 in men and 70 in women. 

One of the primary factors that affect how CAD affects the system is susceptibility to other illnesses. For example, some diseases affect only the female population. These are polycystic ovary disease, endometriosis, and high blood pressure during pregnancy. 

But, sometimes, both women and men can have a silent heart attack. This condition has few or no symptoms. 

So, it’s a good idea to have regular check-ups if you have a predisposition to heart complications or disease, like ischemic heart disease, for example. 

Of course, having pain in the chest doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a heart attack. The chest pain center could be affected by simple muscle strain, reflux, indigestion, or inflammation. 

Heart attack pain is recurrent and feels like stabbing, radiating aches that spread through specific areas of the body. 

How to Offer First Aid for Someone Experiencing Heart Attack

Early heart attack care is crucial for keeping health in check. If the mild pain becomes persistent and causes vice-like pain in the chest, it can spread to the back, neck, jaw, and stomach. The pain is a clear indicator that the heart muscle isn’t getting enough blood flow. 

The moment you spot the heart attack signs, contact the nearest emergency department. A blockage to the coronary artery can be a severe heart problem. 

While you wait for assistance, help the affected individual sit down. It is best to take a comfortable position on the floor and lean against the wall. This position eases the strain on the heart muscle. Plus, the affected individual is less likely to hurt themselves if they lose consciousness. 

If the patient is awake, give them aspirin. According to experts, the medication can keep the blood from clotting. When ingested during a heart attack, it may lessen heart damage. 

However, avoid the medication if the patient is allergic to it. For someone with a history of weak heart or disease, sometimes nitroglycerin is recommended. This may help as well. 

Start CPR immediately if the individual loses consciousness, doesn’t have a pulse, or isn’t breathing. This is a temporary solution for restoring the flow of blood while waiting for emergency services. To do CPR the right way, apply quick and hard pushes to the center of the chest. 

Use a fairly fast rhythm of around 100 – 120 compressions a min. In case you have a portable electronic device, like an automated external defibrillator at hand, make use of it as soon as you can. Follow the instruction manual. When help arrives, the individual will be taken to the nearest emergency room. 

What Could Trigger a Heart Attack?

Some diseases can increase the risk of CAD and trigger a heart attack. Endometriosis, for example, can increase the risk of CAD in women under 40 by a staggering 400%. When paired with an unhealthy lifestyle or bad habits, the disease of the heart can put a lot of strain on the organ. 

With each smoked cigarette, the heart gets weaker. About 1 in 5 deaths from a disease of the heart are directly linked to smoking. Those who smoke are 2 to 4 times more likely to experience this kind of disease. The odds are even higher for women who take birth control pills and smoke. 

A sedentary lifestyle is another contributor, experts explain. Roughly 35% of CHD mortality is the result of physical inactivity. The problem is, about 60% of Americans are inactive, meaning that they are constantly at risk of weakening their heart. 

Obesity is another problem. For every BMI unit that increases, the possibility of heart failure goes up by 5% in men and 7% in women. Due to the piling body weight, the amount of blood and total blood volume getting pushed by the organ increases. 

This ends up amplifying cardiac output, causing enlargement of the left and right ventricle, wall tension, and dilation. 

Diabetes is also a disease you shouldn’t ignore. The spiking blood sugar from diabetes damages the nerves and blood vessels that control the heart, eventually weakening the organ. 

Risk Factors That You Should Know About

Understanding the risk of heart attack can help people keep their organs in check. The more risk factors a person has, the bigger the chances for developing CAD, which may trigger a heart attack. 

Typical factors that can contribute to poor heart health include:

  • Smoking or drinking habits

  • Diabetes

  • Stress

  • Insufficient nutrition

  • Lack of physical activity

  • Obesity

  • Age

  • Congenital disease of the heart

  • High blood pressure

  • Unstable cholesterol 

Experts have divided the risk factors into three general categories. These are major, modifiable, and contributing risk factors. A major risk factor is something that you can’t change, like age or family history. Modifiable risk factors are something you can control, such as smoking, obesity, cholesterol, etc. 

While contributing risk factors are connected to the increased risk of CVD. But, their impact and prevalence remain unknown. The sooner you manage the risk, the better the chances of having a healthy heart. 

Diagnosing a Heart Attack – What Kind of Tests Can I Expect?

Ideally, a medical expert screens their patients during regular check-ups. This is to find the risk factors that might cause a heart attack. 

Doctors usually ask for symptoms and check your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse when receiving medical treatment. Patients are then connected to a heart monitor and undergo a series of tests. 

The go-to choices for proper diagnosis include ECG (electrocardiogram) and blood tests. If additional testing is necessary, the doctor can suggest an X-ray or MRI. 

Sometimes, however, an angiogram (coronary catheterization) or echocardiogram may be required. This is to identify the extent of the heart damage. 

Treatment 

Options like aspirin, pain meds, statins, ACE inhibitors, and beta-blockers can help. The treatment is typically administered in a medical setting. Sometimes, the emergency moderator will suggest you take or give an affected individual aspirin. 

This is to ease the blood clotting and restore the flow of blood through the narrow artery. Experts may opt for ACE inhibitors since it’s important to stabilize the blood pressure to ease the pressure on the heart. These medications reduce high blood pressure and give the artery a fighting chance. 

When typical medicine can no longer prove useful, surgical or other procedures, like coronary angioplasty and stenting or bypass surgery, may be necessary. After treating the disease, those affected can gradually return to normal life depending on their individual health state. 

Conclusion

On an individual scale, this heart complication continues to take a toll on peoples’ lives. Now that you are familiar with its signs, treatment, and diagnosis, you will know exactly what you are dealing with. So, take the necessary precautions and consult with a doctor if necessary. 

Next Up

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10 Signs Of Heart Disease Men Shouldn’t Ignore.

Sources

  1. Quah JL, Yap S, Cheah SO, et al. Knowledge of signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke among Singapore residents. Biomed Res Int. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4000924/
  2. Fang J, Luncheon C, Ayala C, Odom E, Loustalot F. Awareness of Heart Attack Symptoms and Response Among Adults – United States, 2008, 2014, and 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366680/

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