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February is Heart Awareness Month

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What is a Heart Attack?

“A heart attack happens when your heart muscle cannot get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function properly.” [Heart Facts]

Why Do They Happen?

There can be many reasons that increase your risk for a heart attack including your age and any medical conditions. However, there can be other factors that put you at higher risk, such as: a diet high in saturated fats, cholesterol, being overweight/obesity, drinking too much alcohol, not getting enough sleep and tobacco use. Less common causes of CHD are: Drug misuse and lack of oxygen in blood (hypoxia). [Risk Factors, NHS]

Heart Disease is the leading cause of heart attacks. CHD is a condition in which the coronary arteries (major vessels that supply the heart with blood) become clogged with deposits of cholesterol. These deposits are called plaque. Before a heart attack one of the plaques ruptures causing a blood clot to form at the site of the rupture. The clot may block the supply of blood to the heart, triggering a heart attack.

Gender Differences in a Heart Attack

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If you have any of these signs, call 911 and get to the hospital immediately.

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs that may be indicative of a heart attack include breaking out into a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.


If you have any of these signs, call 911 and get to the hospital immediately.

  • Chest pain is the most common symptom in men (and women.) Most often it starts slowly with mild pain or discomfort.
  • Chest discomfort or pressure and the pain can be severe but many times it can be a feeling of “fullness,” squeezing or pressure. It can also be mistaken for heartburn.
  • Pain can show up in other parts of your body unrelated to the heart. typically it’s a part of the body above the waist- including part of your stomach, upper part of your arm (probably the left) or both; your back, neck or jaw and even teeth.

Men and Women

  • The most common symptom between men and women is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are more likely than men to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain.

More on Gender Differences in Cardiovascular Disease

A recent study based on data from 2 million patients, suggests that women were less likely to be prescribed aspirin, statins and certain blood pressure medicine compared to men.

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

As mentioned above this is a group of diseases involving the heart or blood vessels. This includes high blood pressure (hypertension), coronary artery disease, heart attacks, heart failure, heart valve problems and abnormal heart rhythms. It can also present differently in men and women. For example, while the frequency of CVD tends to be lower in women before menopause than in men, the frequency dramatically increases after menopause accounting for approximately 1 out of 3 deaths in women. Also, and probably not surprisingly many of the classic signs and symptoms of CVD are based on research largely performed in men.

How Do You Ensure You Ensure You Are Receiving the Best Cardiovascular Preventative Care?

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Routine doctor visits.  Everyone should routinely visit their primary care doctor, regardless of age, sex or medical history. It’s important to get routine screenings of cholesterol, diabetes, and blood pressure. You should discuss any risks you have and if your screenings show issues, you should discuss with your doctor your risk for CVD and also the risk and benefits of medication.

Please Visit the CDC for information about your risks.   

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