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Heart Attack Symptoms Often Different for Women

Based on all the movies where a male actor suddenly clutches his chest and falls to the ground, it’s not surprising that many people think heart attacks are something that only happen to men.

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

They’re wrong.

Women not only suffer heart attacks but are also more likely to die when they do. One in four women dies within the first year after suffering a heart attack compared to one in five men. In the United States and Canada, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and in women.

“Heart attacks are not just for men,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Women are also at risk and need to know the symptoms.”

Most people are unaware of how common heart attacks are in women because the symptoms are often less dramatic than those depicted on the screen. This can lead to misdiagnosis and death. Heart attacks in men are not always of the classic movie variety either, but the more subtle signs of a coronary, including indigestion, dizziness, nausea and fatigue occur more often in women. Prompt emergency treatment greatly improves the odds of surviving a heart attack. For men and for women, awareness of all heart attack symptoms is crucial.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

Chest discomfort: Pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back

General discomfort: Pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach

Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing with or without chest discomfort

Other Signs: Nausea, lightheadedness, breaking out in a cold sweat

Medical attention should be sought immediately if any of these symptoms are experienced.

It’s also important to understand coronary artery disease (CAD) – also called atherosclerosis – which causes most heart attacks. CAD is a condition in which the coronary arteries become clogged with plaque, a buildup of cholesterol and calcium that has made them stiffen and narrow, slowing blood flow to the heart. This can lead blood to back up in the arteries and form a clot. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot suddenly cuts off blood supply to the heart, causing permanent heart damage.

Some people have a genetic predisposition for CAD, but more often than not, CAD is caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, inactivity and diets that are high in fat.

Reduce Your Risk for CAD and Heart Attacks

  • Eat wisely
    • Choose lean meat and poultry without skin and roast, broil or bake.
    • Choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products.
    • Cut back on beverages and foods containing added sugars and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
    • Use little or no added salt.
    • Read food labels and avoid foods that are high in sodium.
    • Follow the DASH eating plan or the Mediterranean diet, both of which promote fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats.
    • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation:
      • Women: No more than one drink per day.*
      • Men: No more than two drinks per day.*

*One drink is 1.5 oz. of hard liquor, 5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. of beer.

  • Exercise
    • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week or
    • At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week and
    • Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week for additional health benefits.
  • Quit smoking
    • Twenty minutes after quitting: Heart rate and blood pressure drops.
    • One year after quitting: Risk of CAD is half that of a smoker’s.
    • Fifteen years after quitting: Risk of CAD is the same as a non-smoker’s.
  • Take your medication
    • If you have CAD, taking your medication as prescribed can reduce your risk for heart attack.

Health Alerts, brochures, pamphlets and posters from the LHSFNA that focus on healthy diet, exercise and lifestyle can guide Laborers in making choices that help in protecting against heart disease. These materials are listed in the Fund’s Publications Catalogue. Order at

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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