Signs of a heart attack in men – and how it can differ from women

Signs of a heart attack in men – and how it can differ from women

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Heart attacks occur when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked – typically by a blood clot. With your heart integral to keeping your organs, muscles and brain going having a heart attack is a serious medical emergency. Any signs or symptoms of a heart attack should be reported to 999 as soon as possible.

Lack of blood to the heart due to a heart attack can be life-threatening and can damage the heart muscle.

Coronary heart disease is the main cause of heart attacks according to the NHS – as it causes major blood vessels which supply the heart get clogged with cholesterol deposits.

Then one of these cholesterol deposits – known as plaques – ruptures, and causes a blood clot to develop.

The blood clot can then block the supply of blood to the heart which causes a heart attack.

Read More: High cholesterol: Symptoms include periodontitis

Heart attack symptoms are distinctive, but can often be ignored or put down to non-urgent conditions like indigestion.

Key heart attack symptoms according to the NHS include

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling weak or lightheaded, or both
  • an overwhelming feeling of anxiety

In particular, the chest can feel like it’s being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back.

However, symptoms can vary between men and women.

The NHS warns not everyone experiences severe chest pain with a heart attack.

Often women can experience milder pain, and so it is put down to another cause like indigestion.

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The American Health Association (AHA) also says women are more likely to experience symptoms like “shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain”.

As such, the NHS says: “It’s the combination of symptoms that’s important in determining whether a person is having a heart attack and not the severity of chest pain.”

Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center told the AHA: “Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure.

“Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.”

How are heart attacks treated?

All suspected heart attacks are treated as an emergency, with an ambulance sent out to the ill person straight away.

While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, the 999 call handler may advise you to chew and swallow a tablet of aspirin.

This is because aspirin works to thin the blood and improves the flow of blood to the heart.

Once at the hospital, treatment for a heart attack depends on how serious it is.

The two main treatments are:

  • using medicines to dissolve blood clots
  • surgery to help restore blood to the heart

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