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Women, High Blood Pressure & Heart Attacks

Eli Ben-yehuda

Written by Eli Ben-yehuda

On March 25, 2019
 

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a dangerous condition that affects more than one out of every three persons. 33.4% of men and 30.7% of women have hypertension. These figures cause at least 1,100 deaths per day or 440,000 deaths per year that directly related to hypertension. High blood pressure is called the “Silent Killer” because there are no symptoms until it is too late. But if there are symptoms – doctors are more likely to miss them – when women patients are concerned.

Misdiagnosed Heart Attack in Women

Doctors are more likely to dismiss heart attack symptoms as not heat related in women younger than 55, according to a new study published in Circulation February 20th, 2018. According to the article, women are less likely to present with chest pain for acute myocardial infarct AMI.

The researchers interviewed more than 2,000 women and 976 men ages 18-55 who were hospitalized for a heart attack – what physicians call an acute myocardial infarct – at 100 hospitals that participated in the study.

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The report stated that both men and women reported chest pain and pressure. However, women were more likely to present with other symptoms as well. For example, women were more likely to report a jaw, neck, and arm pain. They also reported indigestion or shortness of breath. Also, women were more likely than men to tell their physicians that they thought it was stress related.

Men Vs. Women’s Heart attack symptoms

Men and women present differently when experiencing a heart attack.

Men :

  • Generally suffer from localized pain on the left side of the body, usually the left chest or arm.
  • Often describe this as crushing, even debilitating pain.

Women:

  • More likely to experience exhaustion, dizziness, shortness of breath, or nausea.
  • If they have localized pain, it may be in the jaw or neck and in either or both arms.
  • Often describe flu-like/ and or non-specific symptoms

Women are usually in their 70’s when they suffer their first heart attack, which far too often is fatal. That is because so many of the early warning signs have been misread. Women are much more likely to die within their first year after having a heart attack.

Menopause and Heart Disease

When it comes to heart disease, the hormone estrogen offers amazing cardiac protection for women. With the loss of estrogen, due to menopause, low-density lipids or LDL’s the bad cholesterol begins to rise. Conversely, the HDL or high-density lipids begin to drop.

Postmenopausal women have greater levels of cholesterol than do men of the same age. If you combine this with an unhealthy elevation of triglycerides, postmenopausal women over the age of 65 are left at an unusually higher risk of death from heart disease.

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6 signs of Heart Attack in Women
  1. Pain/tightness in the chest – A common symptom is a feeling of tightness. Pressure or discomfort in the chest. Chest pain is caused by blockages within the main heart arteries. Women also have a tendency to have blockages in small arteries coming from the heart. This is known as microvascular coronary disease. Because of this, chest pain may not be the worst or most recognizable symptoms for a woman.
  2. Shortness of Breath (SOB) – You may feel like you cannot breathe properly or you cannot get enough air into your lungs. Some women even experience difficulty breathing a few weeks before having a heart attack.
  3. Nausea/Vomiting or Sweating – You may feel queasy or actually vomit. You may also feel sweaty and clammy.
  4. Lightheadedness/ Dizziness – You may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or just not feel “Quite With It”.
  5. Pain In Other Parts Of The Body – You may feel pain or pressure in your jaw, neck, arm, lower or upper back, belly or torso. You may feel like you have indigestion or heartburn. Remember pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
  6. Unusual Fatigue/Weakness – You may suddenly feel very tired or very weak. These symptoms can occur with or without chest discomfort.
Women and High Blood Pressure

A common misconception is that high blood pressure rarely affects women. Yet nearly half of all adults with high blood pressure are women. Also at age 65 and up women are more likely to have high blood pressure than men.

While high blood pressure is not directly related to gender, throughout a woman’s life, health issues like pregnancy, birth control, and menopause increase the risk of developing high blood pressure.

Risks & Treatments

You may be surprised to learn that many women take blood pressure drugs but still have high blood pressure. This is especially true for older women. Why? There are numerous reasons. Some women may not take their drugs as prescribed, whether incorrect amounts or at the wrong times. For others, a drug may not lower their blood pressure enough.

To prevent stroke, heart attack or heart failure, blood pressure must be controlled to below 140/90.

So make sure you’re in control of your high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor and ask about your blood pressure level. If it is too high, ask about adjusting your drug and making lifestyle changes that will bring your blood pressure to below 140/90.

Taking Control of Your High Blood Pressure

The optimum blood pressure target is different for different people.

Official guidelines are just that: They guide doctors and patients. “But every patient is different,” says Townsend, one of the country’s leading experts on hypertension. For patients at low cardiovascular risk, a higher systolic target may be acceptable. The same may be true for some high-risk patients who can’t tolerate aggressive therapy because of side effects. “With a 69-year-old who’s already taking four blood pressure medications to get down to 135, you have to think carefully about whether it’s worth adding another medication,” Townsend says. The best advice is to ask your doctor what’s right for you.

There are many things you can do to help yourself avoid high blood pressure and heart attack. If you are a woman know the signs and symptoms and do not shrug it off as just anxiety. If you are the partner of a woman you to should also know the signs. If you see your partner exhibiting these signs sit her down and call 911.


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