MercyOne North Iowa doctor says heart attack symptoms can be different in women compared to men

MASON CITY — The American Heart Association and the MercyOne North Iowa Heart Center on Friday are taking part in raising awareness about cardiovascular disease and stroke with “National Wear Red Day”.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women in the United States, but women often experience more atypical symptoms when having a heart attack according to MercyOne North Iowa general cardiologist Dr. Denisa Hagau.  “A 55-year-old who never had a symptom in her life in terms of heart symptoms, and all of the sudden out of the blue just has some weakness and a little bit of perspiration, feels a little dizzy, but tries to talk herself out of it, does not seek medical attention, one day later the symptoms are much worse because now we’re having a full-blown heart attack. Eventually she gets into the emergency room, and that was actually her heart attack symptom.”

Hagau says the symptoms women experience when having a heart attack are vague and very non-specific.   “It can be just shoulder pain, but the trick to understand that this is heart related is something that happened suddenly. It can be addressed as opposed to men, who get with exertion, the chest tightness that people know about going to the left arm, or not necessarily going to the left arm but chest discomfort happens with exertion in men. Women can wake up with it at night, it can be addressed while watching TV. They’re very different presentations.”

Hagau says your lifestyle in your 20s may not seem like a big deal, but it can catch up with you once you turn 30 and develop risk factors that could lead to a heart attack.  “Knowing your numbers. What’s your blood pressure? When did you check last time your blood pressure? Have you ever had a physical exam. You are young, you tend not to go anywhere for years unless you really need medical attention. First of all screening of blood pressure is very simple. You don’t need a physician, you can go to a drug store to do that. To make it simpler for your other numbers to know, for example your cholesterol, everybody is busy these days, it’s hard to get into an appointment, but you can do what we call wellness labs.”

If you want to learn more about how healthy your own heart is, you can take a MercyOne North Iowa Heart Center quiz by clicking here