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Heart Attack Signs: What Do Women Need To Watch For? - Dr. Smolens

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Dr. Smolens shares the typical indicators of a heart attack in women. Dr. Iva Smolens serves as medical director of the Women's Heart Center at Banner Heart Hospital in Mesa, Arizona.

Dr. Smolens:
Unlike Caucasian men, women actually don’t have any true typical signs of a heart attack. We usually think of left-sided chest pain, chest pressure, sometimes people describe an elephant sitting on their chest as a common complaint or a presentation for a heart attack.

In women it can be a variety of symptoms and that’s why so many women get blown off with their heart disease. Women present with chest pressure or chest pain. One of the most common complaints for women presenting to the emergency room with a heart attack is nausea, vomiting, and a two- or three-day period of flu-like symptoms.

Clearly, every women who comes to the ER with nausea and vomiting may or may not have heart disease, but it should not get ignored, and I think genuinely when women present with those symptoms they need to be very clear and concise with their physician, in the emergency room, and with their primary care physicians delineating their exact symptoms to make sure that heart disease is not missed at that point.

During that conversation, women need to really emphasize some of their own risk factors so that they can be taken into account including genetic risk factors, family history of heart disease needs to be addressed, whether they have any of increased risks, are they at optimal risk or high risk for heart disease because if they are at high risk for heart disease and they present with nausea and vomiting, they need to be evaluated not only for GI issues, but for heart disease issues.

Not only do women present differently, but unfortunately a recent study that was published in 2009 from Texas demonstrated that when women call 911 and ask EMS to be a responder for their symptoms, there was an actual delay demonstrated between men and women even receiving care for heart disease in the EMS system. So how can we address that as women?

We need to really advocate strongly for ourselves. When we call EMS for help we need to tell them what our symptoms are and even voice a concern saying, “This may be my heart. I am very worried. I am at high risk for heart disease.” And as I think more and more women advocate for themselves, we will educate the system and hopefully these differences will become abolished.

About Dr. Smolens, M.D.:
Board Certified Cardiothoracic Surgeon Iva Smolens, M.D., serves as medical director of the Women's Heart Center at Banner Heart Hospital in Mesa, Arizona. She currently serves on the American Heart Association’s Board of Directors for the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Condition: Heart Attack, Heart Palpitation, Heart Disease

Related Terms: Chest Pain, Stress Test, High Blood Pressure, HDL, LDL, Body Mass Index, Cardiovascular Exercise, Angiography, Stent, Heart Bypass Surgery, Open Heart Surgery, Vascular Disease, EKG

Expert: Dr. Iva Smolens, Iva Smolens, M.D., Doctor Iva Smolens, Cardiologist Iva Smolens

Expertise: Cardiology, Heart Specialist, Heart Disease, Cardiovascular Disease, Coronary Artery Disease, Heart Attack, Heart Palpitation

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