Monday, February 14, 2011


Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack

February is American Heart Month, a time to bring attention to just how prevalent heart disease is and provide education that could help reverse the grim statistics.

Every year more than 600,000 people die of heart disease – it is the leading cause of death for both men and women. In fact, a little known fact is that half of the deaths from heart disease are women.

Paying attention to your symptoms when you are having a heart attack and seeking immediate treatment can lead to improved survival and better outcomes.

A recent study examines why some people come into the hospital when they are having a heart attack and why others delay seeking treatment. Overall, among men and women, non-whites, those of lower socioeconomic status, and those who have had prior angina, diabetes or hypertension delay in seeking care.

According to the study, women often delay longer than men. They may not realize they are having a heart attack because of atypical symptoms, or they may not want to trouble anyone. Women present older and are more likely to have chronic heart failure, diabetes or other chronic medical issues, which can further complicate treatment.

Women may have nausea, back, neck and jaw pain rather than the traditional arm and chest pain or in addition to those symptoms. They also may experience shortness of breath or break out in a cold sweat.

Women are more worried about breast cancer, but statistics show they are more likely to have heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is the single leading cause of death for American women. Nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

John Foley, MD, is a cardiologist on The William W. Backus Hospital Medical Staff, a member of Cardiology Associates of Norwich and on the faculty at Yale University School of Medicine. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Foley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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