Heart attack symptoms can differ between men and women. While chest pain is a common symptom of heart attacks for both genders, women may experience another common heart attack warning signs like, shortness of breathe, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain. Men may experience more traditional, common warning signs of a heart attack like chest pain, arm pain and sweating.
It is important to note that not all heart attacks present with the same symptoms, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all. Being aware that heart attack warning signs can differ between men and women is vital because it allows for early detection and appropriate action.
Heart attack first aid training is a vital link in the heart attack survival chain because it equips individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to recognise the symptoms of heart attack and provide immediate assistance to someone experiencing a heart attack. Learning about heart attack treatments and how to respond to heart attack more effectively can save lives and minimise the damage caused by a heart attack.
Understanding these distinctions in heart health ensures that both men and women receive timely medical attention for heart health, leading to better outcomes by emphasising the importance of heart attack first aid training and recognising the varying symptoms of heart failure between genders.
What Causes a Heart Attack?
A myocardial infarction, more commonly called a heart attack, is caused by Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) — the gradual blockage of a coronary artery. The coronary arteries are those that surround and connect to the heart. These coronary arteries are responsible for supplying oxygenated blood, however, when the body has an excess of fat and cholesterol, an artery can narrow due to various factors like excess fat and cholesterol. This leads to a blocked artery and reduced flow of oxygen-rich blood to the extremities of the body.
Over time, this excess fat and cholesterol harden, forming a substance known as plaque. When the plaque becomes damaged, platelets can attach themselves to the affected areas of the coronary artery. This attachment can lead to the formation of blood clots. Also called thrombi, blood clots, can completely block the coronary artery and stop blood flow if left untreated.
Ordinarily, blood clotting is a helpful process by which the body controls blood loss from an injury, and the blood’s clotting action, with good blood supply, after the injury has begun to scab over, will dissipate and normal blood flow will resume. Surgery, cardiac rehabilitation, can restore blood flow in the event of a blood clot that has completely blocked a coronary artery.
Prevention is the best cure, with the secret to the healthy blood vessel being a healthy lifestyle and strong heart muscle cells for a resilient coronary artery wall. For those with risk factors who have already experienced warning signs for a heart attack, taking blood pressure medicines improves blood flow and lowers risk to the coronary artery wall. Early treatment is key, because once an artery wall breaks, what may have previously been an uncomfortable pressure can quickly become a medical emergency.
Another cause of heart attack is Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) in which one of the coronary arteries that supply the heart can develop a blood collection or hematoma within the wall of the artery due to a tear. It’s an uncommon condition and a major cause of heart attacks in young, otherwise healthy women who usually lack typical cardiovascular risk factors. Although the exact cause is not yet known, SCAD is likely related to changes that occur during and after pregnancy, or possibly genetics, hormonal influences, inflammatory issues or changes due to disease.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Men
While chest pains are common heart attack warning signs, men may also feel discomfort or pain in other areas of the upper body like the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. This pain or discomfort can be intense and may come and go. Men may also experience shortness of breath, sweating, lightheadedness or nausea during a heart attack.
It is important to note that not all men will experience the same symptoms during a heart attack. Some men may only have very mild pain symptoms when heart attack occurs or may not experience any pain at the heart muscle at all. This is known as a silent heart attack and can be particularly dangerous as it may go unnoticed. Therefore, men must pay attention to any unusual symptoms they may be experiencing and seek medical attention immediately if they suspect a heart attack.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
In women, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack may not always be as obvious or typical as they are in men, but they are largely the same. While chest pain can still be present, women can have chest discomfort and also, like men, experience other symptoms and signs of a heart attack that are not directly related to their chest area like breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness and extreme fatigue.
It is crucial for women to be aware of the various signs and symptoms of a heart attack so that they can seek medical attention promptly and remember that while they may vary, they can happen to any sex. Women should trust their instincts and seek medical help if they suspect they may be experiencing signs of a heart attack, even if the symptoms seem less typical. Early recognition and treatment of severe symptoms of coronary heart disease can greatly improve the chances of a positive outcome.
Is Cardiac Arrest the Same as a Heart Attack?
Cardiac arrests and heart attacks (myocardial infarction) are two distinct medical emergencies that require different treatments. Although they appear similar, they have different underlying causes and symptoms.
During a cardiac arrest, the electrical system that controls the heartbeat and blood pressure malfunctions, causing the heart to stop beating. This can result in a sudden collapse without any palpable heartbeat or any blood pressure or flow. The person experiencing a cardiac arrest may also have difficulty breathing and lose consciousness. It’s crucial to call for an ambulance immediately and initiate chest compressions or CPR. If available, a defibrillator should be used to deliver an electric shock to the heart to restore its normal rhythm, we explore cardiac arrest and what to do in our article: ‘Can you save someone who is clinically dead?’
A blockage in the coronary arteries, which provide blood to the heart muscle, causes a heart attack. This blockage can lead to chest pain, breathlessness and general discomfort in the upper body. While a heart attack or blocked artery can result in cardiac complications, it does not necessarily lead to cardiac arrest. Prompt medical attention is essential in both blocked coronary artery and cases to ensure the best possible outcome for the individual.
How are Heart Attacks Diagnosed?
Heart attacks are diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. The medical history will include questions about the heart attack vary the patient’s symptoms, family history, and risk factors for heart disease. The physical examination will involve checking the patient’s vital signs, their blood pressure, listening to their heart and lungs, and examining their chest for signs of swelling or tenderness. Additional diagnostic tests that may be used to diagnose a heart attack include electrocardiogram (ECG), blood tests, echocardiogram and cardiac catheterisation.
- An ECG measures the electrical activity of the heart and can detect abnormalities that may indicate a heart attack.
- Blood tests can detect enzymes that are released into the bloodstream when the heart muscle is damaged.
- An echocardiogram can identify areas of heart dysfunction by utilising sound waves to form visuals.
- Cardiac catheterisation involves inserting a thin tube into a blood vessel in the arm or leg and threading it up to the heart to look for blockages in the arteries.
These methods are all best performed by trained emergency medical personnel, which is why it’s so important to call triple zero (000) when you identify heart attack warning signs.
How To Help if You See Someone Having a Heart Attack
If you suspect somebody had a heart attack, call triple zero first. Calling triple zero (000) immediately gives the patient the best chance of survival as it will get emergency medical services on their way to your location. You will also benefit from having a trained professional on the other end of the line to talk you through cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if it becomes necessary. You can learn how to start chest compressions with a course from First Aid Pro.
While waiting for the emergency services to arrive stay with the person who may be having a heart attack and provide them with reassurance and support. Encourage them to sit down and try to keep them calm. If they are conscious and able to communicate, ask if they have any prescribed medication for a heart condition and assist them in taking it, if necessary.
It’s also advisable to ask if they have any known allergies or medical conditions that could affect their treatment. However, it is important to avoid giving them any medication or attempting to perform any medical or surgical procedures by yourself, as this should be left to the professionals. By staying by their side and offering comfort, you can help alleviate some anxiety and stress they may be experiencing while waiting for medical assistance to arrive.
How Can I Prevent a Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Death?
Maintain the healthiest lifestyle you can by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly in a way you enjoy and avoiding smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. Managing stress levels in a positive way and getting enough sleep where possible can also contribute to your mental health, overall resilience and a robust heart.
It is also important to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly, as high levels of both can increase your other risk factors of heart disease and heart attacks. If you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors for heart attack, such as diabetes or obesity, it is important to discuss these with your doctor and develop a plan to manage your own risk factors.