Peculiarities of a heart attack in women.
Contrary to frequent assumptions, a heart attack is not a typical male disease. On the contrary, it is a serious event that affects both men and women. However, the symptoms in women can differ significantly from those in men. Studies have shown that it is often more difficult for women to interpret the symptoms correctly. For example, a heart attack in women may be detected too late, which reduces the chances of success of treatment.
Zava explains the most common causes and typical signs of a heart attack in women.
What happens in a heart attack?
A heart attack is caused by a blood clot that blocks a coronary artery. The medical term for a blood clot is thrombus. The thrombus floats in the blood until it reaches a small vessel where it no longer fits. There it prevents the blood flow for the cells supplied by this vessel.
This can affect all regions of the body. A blocked vessel in the brain is called a stroke, if a heart vessel is blocked it is a heart attack. The thrombus is not located in the heart itself, but in a vessel that supplies the heart muscles (coronary artery). This means that the heart can no longer beat in the affected area, which can have life-threatening consequences depending on the extent of the infarction.
Which women have an increased risk of a heart attack?
The risk factors for a heart attack in women are very similar to those in men. There are different risk factors for a heart attack, some of which can be influenced and others not.
Risk factors that can be influenced include smoking, an unhealthy diet, obesity, lack of physical activity and high blood pressure. However, age, which is considered risky especially among women over 55, and a family history of cardiovascular diseases cannot be influenced. .
The consequence of one or more of these risk factors is primarily arteriosclerosis, a calcification of the blood vessels. In the coronary arteries, arteriosclerosis is referred to as coronary heart disease. A dreaded complication of coronary heart disease is heart attack.
Are there special risks for women?
An important risk factor that only occurs in women is pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. It is colloquially referred to as pregnancy poisoning. Preeclampsia can lead to high blood pressure, which is life-threatening for the foetus and mother. In addition, studies have shown that pre-eclampsia puts a great strain on the heart muscle.
This can lead to heart failure in the long term. For reasons not yet fully understood, eclampsia is also the most important risk factor that must be considered especially for women.
In extremely rare cases, taking the pill can also trigger thrombosis in women. However, venous thromboses such as deep vein thrombosis are more common. Other hormonal contraceptive methods such as the vaginal ring and the contraceptive patch may also increase the risk of blood clots.
The risk factor age plays an important role not only in the development of arteriosclerosis in general. Doctors have found that women from the menopause onwards have an increased risk of thrombosis due to hormone changes. In men, the risk also increases with increasing age.
For women, however, a curve with a significant increase from the time of menopause could be demonstrated. Before the age of about 55, the event rate for thrombotic events such as heart attacks and strokes is much higher in men. However, from the age of 55, complications are more frequent in women, which is probably mainly due to the changed hormone constellation.
What are the common symptoms of heart attack in both sexes?
Typical symptoms of a heart attack are narrow chest and pain or stinging, especially in the left shoulder, which can radiate into the left arm or upper back. These signs are often warned of and most people know them as an alarm signal for a heart attack. However, they are more typical for men and can be attenuated in women or not occur at all.
Which signs of a heart attack are typically more common in women?
Women often do not show the typical symptoms of a heart attack. Other, even more unspecific, signs of a heart attack are also very common in women. Many women do not feel the pain caused by a heart attack in their arms or back, but mainly in their upper abdomen. Few people know that nausea and vomiting can also occur.
However, it is not always necessarily pain that indicates a heart attack in women. Especially in the area of the chest and upper abdomen, women are often affected by a feeling of pressure instead of stabbing pain. Women also experience shortness of breath again and again, especially in connection with a tight feeling in the chest.
Such signs, however, also occur more frequently with other diseases and are not necessarily a cause for concern. Symptoms such as shortness of breath and upper abdominal pain occur relatively often, so that they are not properly interpreted or not taken seriously at all. Especially if the symptoms occur for the first time or are extremely severe, it is absolutely necessary to think of a heart attack.
Are there other therapeutic options for women than for men?
Acute therapy with immediate transport to hospital, medication or heart catheterisation is the same for both sexes. The aim is to restore blood circulation to the heart muscle in the affected area as quickly as possible. This ensures survival and prevents consequential damage.
The realization that the heart attack rate in women increases significantly after menopause favored considerations as to whether hormone replacement therapy can prevent a heart attack under certain circumstances.
However, numerous studies on the connection between hormone replacement therapy with estrogen and the incidence of heart attacks have shown no significant improvement. Due to the numerous side effects of estrogen therapies, hormone treatment to prevent heart attacks is therefore not recommended from a medical point of view.
The most important components of a therapy after a heart attack in men and women are drugs that influence coagulation (blood thinners such as aspirin), antihypertensives and statins to lower cholesterol levels.
How should women behave after a heart attack?
If a heart attack has already occurred, various behavioural measures for rehabilitation and prevention of further heart attacks are important.
It is strongly recommended to take the medication according to the doctor’s prescription and not to discontinue it on your own. When changing doctors, old letters should always be shown so that the practitioner is always informed about the patient’s medical history.
Women who have had a heart attack before the menopause and who have taken or wish to take the pill must tell their doctor about the condition. Thrombotic events such as a heart attack or a stroke exclude the use of the pill.
After a heart attack, rehabilitation with appropriate physical activity, a healthy diet and targeted relaxation is extremely important. In addition in the hospital and with ambulatory further treatment one advises in detail. If necessary also a stationary Reha is recommended.
In the long term, the same rules apply to patients as to the prevention of a heart attack. The healthy way of life concerns above all the ranges nutrition and movement.