Women are from Mars and men are from Venus, or is it the other way around?

I’m not sure, but what I am sure about is that there are big differences in the symptoms for having a heart attack or stroke when it comes to the two sexes.

Most people are familiar with the signs that occur when a man is experiencing a heart attack or stroke. The sudden and sharp pain in the chest and usually the same type of severe discomfort in the left arm are the most common signs, although not the only ones. For women the signals can be much subtler. Knowing these facts can truly help save your life.

There are several warning bells for woman when it comes to heart issues. Shortness of breath and having difficulty catching your breath is one indicator, especially if it also happens during sleep, waking you up. A rapid heartbeat and excessive perspiration even when you are not having anxiety or one of those annoying hot flashes is another red flag. You may get a full eight hours of sleep a night but women who still have a high level of exhaustion may be experiencing another sign of a heart issue.

The most notable overlap of symptoms is severe stomach pain. Most of us have had “belly aches” from time to time and for the most part they are due to gas build up or related to something we ate but if they persist, it could be cause for concern. Nausea can happen for many reasons and is not a common symptom that comes to mind when we think of heart attacks but it can happen a few days before having an attack. And because the heart attack doesn’t occur shortly after, it often just gets chalked up to what we ate. Sometimes that nausea may not stop at simply feeling sick. For some, it may become so intense that they vomit. Or in some cases, women may experience indigestion and diarrhea. Because of the nature of these symptoms, many women tend to dismiss them as a stomach flu or food poisoning. If accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or a cold sweat, an impending heart attack could be the cause so it’s important to visit a physician immediately.

While men may feel “the weight of an elephant” sitting on their chests, heart attacks for women often cause sharp pains in the upper body. Most women complain of sudden, shooting pain or dull, gradually mounting pain in the neck, upper arms or jaw. This pain can be so strong that it rouses you from sleep. While the crushing chest pain that men experience during a heart attack is less intense for women, it can still occur leading up to and during a heart attack. More often women feel tight discomfort that is commonly described as a full feeling across the entire chest, not solely on the left side as it is in men. Same for the arms as women can have pain in either the right or the left arm or both. Add dizziness and headaches to the mix of symptoms and the combination should give you an indicator that a visit to the cardiologist as soon as possible is in order.

Always consult a doctor before starting any medication that is over the counter. Many physicians suggest a preventative aspirin regiment of 81 mg low dose aspirin daily.

The first rule of thumb if you are experiencing any signs of a heart attack is to immediately to call 9-1-1. Even if your spouse or other loved one is nearby, experts say it is better to have a calm professional take you to a hospital and straight into the emergency room.

To reiterate, it is imperative that you discuss these issues with your doctor who is familiar with your medical history and can guide you through the various preventative options for your good health care.

Information for this column was gathered from Web MD and the American Heart Association as well as local physicians. Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at marla2054@aol.com.

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