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Not all heart attacks are equal - women react differently to heart problems

A heart attack can seize its victim and leave him or her dead within minutes.

In fact, 40 percent of women do not survive their first heart attack, and heart disease kills more than all forms of cancer combined.

This is why it is important for women to recognize the symptoms of heart attacks and learn ways to prevent heart disease.

It is typically believed women and men display the same warning signs of an imminent heart attack.

This is false.

The presumed most significant warning sign of an impending heart attack is chest pain. However, women frequently suffer heart attacks without a hint of chest pain.

Another common misconception is the proximity of symptoms to attack. According to the National Institutes of Health, women often experience symptoms as long as a month before a heart attack.

If not the iconic chest pain, then what?

Common warning signs to be wary of in women include unusual fatigue, pain between the shoulder blades, insomnia, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety. The victim may also take on a gray pallor.

In addition to symptoms listed above, women are 12 times more likely to report having felt throat discomfort prior to a heart attack.

Jennifer Rentz, RN and cardiac rehabilitation coordinator at Douglas County Hospital, attributes these discrepancies to various factors, one being the age at which women present.

Women generally experience heart attacks seven to 10 years later in life than do men. Another contributing factor is the anatomical differences between men and women.

Women are slower to react to their symptoms, as well. On average, men wait three hours to call 911 after first noticing heart attack symptoms; women wait an average of four hours.

Rentz believes this may be due to the fact that women have grown accustomed to being the caretaker of husbands and children, and downplay their own discomfort.

Rentz advises calling 911 between five and 10 minutes after experiencing symptoms.

"Part of it's our caring nature," said Rentz. However, she is optimistic. "I still think we're caretakers, but I think women are more in charge of their health than they used to be."

Women have also been known to fabricate excuses for their symptoms. They blame shortness of breath on lack of physical fitness; fatigue on sleep deprivation.

These symptoms are not to be overlooked.

Nausea and fatigue need not present themselves for one to know they're at risk, however.

Women should be aware of their level of risk. One may be predisposed to heart disease if she smokes, has a poor diet, does not exercise, is overweight, has high cholesterol or blood pressure, or has a family history of heart disease. These factors hold true for men, too.

This being said, prevention is not difficult.

It's advised that women consume ample fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish semiweekly, nuts, legumes and seeds.

Foods to avoid include those laden with sodium, white and refined flour (doughnuts, biscuits, muffins), foods high in saturated fat (butter, margarine, shortening) and processed meats.

Rentz recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Walking as little as 30 minutes per day can help reach this quota. Other moderate activities include doing yardwork, walking a pet, dancing, hiking, biking or swimming.

Smoking is strongly admonished, also.

Stress should also be avoided. In addition to other obvious benefits, physical activity reduces stress and promotes healthy sleeping habits, which are essential to stress reduction.

Other stress-reducing activities include laughing, chatting, organizing and volunteering.

Awareness is essential. Don't allow the knowledge to stop with you. Tell friends; tell relatives; tell neighbors; tell strangers.

The establishment of good habits can also be shared. Encourage your family to go for a bike ride. Cook a healthy dinner for friends and family. Help a friend quit smoking.

"I think awareness is getting better, but we still have work to do," acknowledged Rentz.


Here's one heart healthy recipe. There are countless others online to fit anyone's taste and dietary restrictions.


1 1/2 cups uncooked penne pasta

1 cup chopped asparagus

6 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with herbs, including juice

1 ounce soft goat cheese, crumbled

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese


Fill a large pot 3/4 full with water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (tender), 10 to 12 minutes, or according to the package directions. Drain the pasta thoroughly. Set aside.

In a pot fitted with a steamer basket, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Add the asparagus. Cover and steam until tender-crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Spray a large nonstick frying pan with cooking spray. Add the chicken and garlic and saute over medium-high heat. Cook until the chicken is golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, including their juice, and simmer 1 minute more.

In a large bowl, add the cooked pasta, steamed asparagus, chicken mixture and goat cheese. Toss gently to mix evenly. Divide the pasta mixture between 2 plates. Sprinkle each serving with 1/2 T. Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.