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By By Nicole S Farrell

There is no time that is not a good time to learn details that concern one's health. Embrace the hearty experiences of the Christmas season but try to always be cognizant of health issues.

Heart disease is deemed the number one killer of women; interestingly enough, years ago, it was cancer. Did you know that for the most part, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack differ between men and women? Therefore, it is likely that a woman can dismiss heart attack symptoms as acid reflux, indigestion, the flu or normal aging.

What exactly is a heart attack? Referred to as a myocardial infarction (MI), it is the most extreme form of heart muscle pain and indicates that a portion of your heart is dying. Usually a blockage of fatty deposits, cholesterol or plaque, as it is also referred to, in a heart artery, reduces or cuts off the blood and oxygen to a certain portion of your heart. The arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly become thicker and harder from that buildup of fat, cholesterol and plaque, according to medical experts..

Additionally, a small piece of plaque can break off and a blood clot will form around it in the artery, shutting off the blood and oxygen. Either way, without oxygen, this portion of your heart muscle begins to die; this causes the pain of a heart attack.

Women might experience the usual tightness or uncomfortable pressure or 'squeezing' in the chest area for a period of several minutes or continually, however, other symptoms are:

• Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw or arms.

• Dizziness or nausea

• Cold sweats

• Heart flutters or paleness

• Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness, especially with exertion

• Stomach or abdominal pain

• Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing as if you ran a marathon even though you never moved

"Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure," said Nieca Goldberg, MD, "Instead, they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue."

"Silent" Heart Attacks

Since a female heart attack victim may not experience pain, only an EKG or blood enzyme test will discover this "silent" attack. Even so, damage to the heart has occurred and the heart's ability to survive another heart attack, however mild, is greatly reduced.

"Silent" heart attacks often accompany a condition called "silent ischemia", which is a long-term shortage of blood and oxygen to the heart due to the gradual accumulation of plaque in the arteries. You are more likely to have ischemia if you are a post-menopausal woman.

Angina

Many women suffer shortness of breath or indigestion that accompanies heart muscle pain, or angina, which is a first warning sign of blocked heart arteries. The pain means that the heart is not getting enough oxygen because not enough blood and oxygen can get to your heart through your arteries. Angina typically goes away after exertion and is eased by rest. It is often not particularly painful. Untreated angina can lead to a heart attack.

Medical experts offer the following tips:

Ask your doctor if he/she can administer blood-thinning or clot-dissolving medicines or perform an angioplasty procedure that removes arterial blockages.

If you even think that you are having a heart attack, get to the hospital as quickly as possible.

If experiencing what seems to be heart attack symptoms, chew a full-strength aspirin and swallow with a glass of water to prevent further blood clotting.

The following excerpt of a heart attack victim's online testimony might impact your thoughts further:

"Rhonda Monroe's story is a cautionary tale. She was mystified when strong pain struck her left breast and left arm. Monroe, who was a 36-year-old mother of three, didn't know it at the time, but she was having early symptoms of a heart attack. 'I certainly wasn't thinking about my heart because I was young and healthy and had been skinny,' she said.

As the pain moved into her shoulder and back, Monroe took pain relievers and showered for relief but the next day, she was overwhelmed with nausea, sweating, vomiting, and chest pain. An ambulance rushed her to the emergency room.

Her next hurdle: getting the doctors to believe her. 'They didn't take me seriously,' Monroe said. She didn't fit the profile of a heart attack patient. The doctors told her she was too young, she was not overweight, and there was no family history of heart disease.

Bedeviled by worsening pain and weakness and convinced she was dying, Monroe returned to the hospital several times over the days that followed, only to come home with no answers. 'I was angry and frustrated.'

Monroe turned to her primary care doctor about her situation and went through more tests at the hospital. Finally, she got her diagnosis -- a week after the initial breast and arm pain. As Monroe recalls, a cardiologist who had previously dismissed her complaints made the diagnosis. The doctor told me it was a good thing I was persistent because I was having a heart attack.'

Heart experts say Monroe's situation is all too common. Women who have "atypical" symptoms, such as arm or back pain or nausea, might not realise at first that they're having a heart attack. Then when they do seek emergency care, doctors sometimes misdiagnose them.

It doesn't matter how young or old you are. Get to the heart of the matter today.

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