Not all heart attacks occur with a sudden, crushing pain in the center of the chest. Heart attack symptoms can vary, and women are more likely to experience a heart attack with no chest pain at all.
That's why it's so important to know your own risk factors for a heart attack, said Paul A. Jones, MD, FACP, FACC, the medical director for Franciscan Health Cardiovascular Services in Northern Indiana and South Suburban Chicago.
"The better we educate the public on knowing the risk factors, the higher the likelihood they would be more in tune to some of the potential signs and symptoms of a heart attack."
Men and women do not experience heart attacks the same way.
Dr. Jones said a patient who knows the risks will be less likely to incorrectly blame their discomfort on heartburn, something he's seen happen too many times. "They'll think twice and say, 'Hey, this could be my warning sign of a heart attack' and not blow it off," he said.
Dr. Jones said the problem for women is that these symptoms can be overlooked, even though women experience heart attacks with the same frequency and severity. For that reason, he recommends women have the "same level of aggressiveness" as men and get an evaluation if they suspect a heart issue. That means heading to the nearest emergency room so a diagnosis can be made. "The other piece is the treatment. We need to be just as aggressive in managing heart disease in women as we are in men," Dr. Jones said.
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the United States, killing over 370,000 people annually. A simple, non–invasive heart scan can assess the risk of coronary artery disease. With this knowledge, individuals can work with their physicians and make lifestyle changes that can save their life.