ZocdocAnswersWhat are the signs that a woman is at risk for a heart attack?

Question

What are the signs that a woman is at risk for a heart attack?

My grandmother recently had a heart attack. The symptoms presented themselves as indigestion, and the paramedics told us that the only reason that she survived was that she took alka-seltzer for her indigestion, and the aspirin present in the medicine saved her life. She is dyspeptic already, and has pretty severe heartburn issues at least twice a week. This makes it hard to monitor all of her stomach issues for a potential second heart attack. Are there any other warning signs? What else should we be watching for? Unfortunately, the scare was not enough to make her change her ways, and she continues to eat fatty foods, smoke like a chimney, and refuse to exercise. This has our family very worried. We would like to continue to have her in our lives as long as possible, but we don't know what to watch for to keep her heart from stopping again.

Answer

It is important to detect the symptoms of a heart attack as soon as possible, because early detection increases the chances of successful treatment, that is why it is important for your grandmother to be evaluated by a cardiologist. When most people think of having a heart attack, they think of chest pain. However, as you have already discovered, many people have a heart attack without ever feeling chest pain. The likelihood of having unusual symptoms associated with a heart attack is increased in certain groups of people like women and diabetics. Even in those groups, however, the most common symptom of a heart attack is still a feeling of pain or pressure below the breastbone that does not go away, or goes away briefly but quickly returns. Cardiac chest pain sometimes radiates to the left side of the chest, one or both arms, the neck, the back, or the stomach. Occasionally, cardiac pain is felt only in the stomach, as your grandmother already experienced, and the diagnosis of a heart attack is delayed because the symptoms are attributed to heartburn. Another common symptom of a heart attack is shortness of breath. Other symptoms include nausea, lightheadedness, or feeling cold and clammy. If your grandmother notices any of these symptoms, she should call 911 immediately. Finally, as you have already identified, the most important step towards preventing a second heart attack is to eliminate the risk factors that contributed to the first one. Your grandmother should eliminate risk factors like smoking, high-fat diet, and infrequent exercise. Quitting smoking is particularly important, since women who smoke are at six times greater risk of of a heart attack than non-smoking women. Your grandmother needs to be evaluated by a cardiologist, who can ensure that she is receiving the medications and rehabilitation important to helping people recover from a heart attack. Her doctor will also be able to help her reduce or eliminate some of the risk factors that contributed to her heart attack and will be able to prescribe medications and recommend resources that may help her quit smoking. You should visit the cardiologist with your grandmother because encouragement and support from family members is one of the most important factors that help people succeed at making lifestyle changes.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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