By Dr. Elaine Ducharme

Heart disease is the number 1 killer of men and women. Although we generally think about Valentine’s Day in February, we need to remember that February is American Heart Month. When we think of heart disease we tend to think of younger men having a massive heart attack. But, the American Heart Association reminds us that when women have heart attacks they tend to be about 10 years older than men and may have different symptoms. In addition, women are more likely to have other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, making it more vital that they get good treatment quickly. Sadly, because symptoms are different for women, they are frequently missed, even by medical personnel and told they are experiencing anxiety!

Heart Attack Warning Signs are:

Chest Discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that comes and goes. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the Upper Body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach .

Shortness of Breath: This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort…but not always.

Other Signs : May include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, the most common symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are more likely to experience some other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, back or joint pain. Recently, a patient of mine experienced a weird tingling in her chest. She knew something was wrong and fortunately got herself to the ER quickly where they told her she clearly had had a heart attack. So be aware that everyone is different.

I also want to point out symptoms of a stroke:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially if on one side of the body.
Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

If you are having any of these symptoms call 911or have someone take you to the ER. Do not drive yourself unless you have absolutely no other option.

This year we are hearing more women speak up about abuse and sexual harassment. As we encourage women to find their voices please be sure you and all your loved ones, especially women are aware of these symptoms and know what to do about them. That would be a fabulous Valentine’s Day gift!

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