If you were to ask the average woman to list the symptoms of a heart attack, she would likely answer without drawing breath.
Tightness in the chest. Pain in the left arm. She might self-consciously laugh about a ‘smell of burning toast’.
And sure, she’s half right. But there’s just one problem.
They’re the symptoms of heart attack in men.
As the Courier Journal puts it, “until recently, heart disease was considered a man’s disease.” One of the reasons is that men tend to have heart attacks younger, their first at age 65, whereas women on average don’t experience heart attack until 72.
But here’s the often ignored footnote.
By their late 70s, women are eight times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer.
So, why aren’t we talking about it?
According to Dr Brad McKay, conventional wisdom has been shaped by the “standard straight white male studies done in the past,” meaning that when women present with worrying symptoms, many doctors don’t immediately jump to a heart attack.
“Symptoms for men will be crushing chest pain,” Dr McKay told Mamamia. “Men will often say it feels like an elephant is standing on their chest. Or somebody has tied a belt around their chest and it’s tightening around their back, that’s really classic…”
For women, it’s a different story.
So, what are the symptoms of heart attack in women?
Dr McKay said the classic signs will emerge during exercise.
“Their heart is put under more pressure as it’s beating faster, and there’s less oxygen able to get to the tissue of the heart because there can be blockages in the arteries… [women] might find that they’re a bit more fatigued sooner… or if they’re used to walking to the top of a hill, then they might need to stop halfway because they’re getting odd symptoms,” he explained.