Most women associate having a heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), with symptoms that come on suddenly and without warning. On the contrary, subtle clues to an impending cardiac event can show up nearly a month before an actual heart attack. Most MIs are caused by an occlusion of a coronary artery that results from a gradual build-up of plaque that eventually cuts off the blood supply. The pain and crushing pressure of a heart attack is felt when blood flow is stopped to a portion of the heart muscle that results in tissue death. Immediate medical help is needed when an MI is suspected to help prevent excessive tissue death that can be fatal. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms that are precursors to a serious cardiac event can alert women to find medical assistance before a life-threatening MI occurs.
Feeling fatigued more than normal can be a sign that coronary artery
narrowing is reaching a dangerous level. The reduced blood flow to the
heart makes the muscle work harder and causes individuals to feel more
tired than usual.
Shortness of Breath
Women who find it increasingly difficult to catch their breath may be
at risk for an impending heart attack. The respiratory and
cardiovascular systems completely depend on one another, and when the
heart is getting less blood, the oxygen carrying capability to the lungs
is hindered resulting in shortness of breath.
A reduced blood flow means that the whole body suffers from decreased
oxygen. Weakness is sometimes felt as the artery narrows and blood
circulation is hindered to the muscles
Dizziness and Cold Sweats
Having unusual episodes of dizziness and/or cold sweats may be a clue
that a heart attack is on the way. When blood flow is restricted to the
brain because of poor cardiac circulation, dizziness and clamminess may
occur, especially when an individual gets up suddenly.
As the coronary artery becomes more restrictive to blood flow, the
lack of oxygen to the heart muscle causes discomfort. As the narrowing
progresses, the pain may also increase until a complete MI occurs.
What Should Be Done?
Studies have shown that men and women often experience the signs and
symptoms of an impending heart attack very differently. Unfortunately,
many women have much more subtle symptoms that they may choose to
dismiss until it is too late. If any of the above warning signs are
experienced, women should visit their physician for a complete workup
that should include:
Blood tests for inflammatory markers
Angiogram when serious indicators are found
Most importantly, women who know that they are experiencing something
unusual in their bodies should insist on testing, especially when a
family history of heart disease is present. Many individuals are sent
home from emergency rooms with a diagnosis of anxiety and later return
suffering from a fully blown heart attack