Dr. Reed Q & A – Heart Attacks and Women

Health & Well Being

Reed V. Tuckson, MD, is Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group. A Fellow of the American College of Physicians, Dr. Reed is a nationally recognized speaker on preventive health and clinical medicine.

 Q:   Dear Dr. Reed:

I recently had a heart attack.  I am recovering nicely.  I never had crushing chest pain.  I was sent to the emergency room because I fainted and was dizzy.  My doctor said women may have different heart problem symptoms than men. Please help your readers understand what they need to know about women and heart disease.

A:   I am delighted that you are recovering nicely! Your story offers an extremely important opportunity to teach women about this disease. Most people, and even doctors, don’t know that more women die from heart attacks than men! In addition, the symptoms of a heart attack in women often differ from those in men.

It is important that a heart attack is recognized early and treated immediately.  Given that the symptoms in women are often atypical, they can be confused with less urgent problems.

Women and their physicians need to be sensitive to any symptoms that are significant, especially if physical exertion or emotional distress make them worse.

These symptoms are problematic. If you experience them, tell your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room:

  • Pain or burning sensations in the chest, jaw, shoulder, back, upper abdomen, or arm
  • Fainting, nausea, shortness of breath, light-headedness, or extreme fatigue

Prevention is the best strategy.

  • If you smoke, STOP!
  • Check your cholesterol and glucose regularly. Talk with your doctor about your results.
  • Exercise even for older adults is important.

Ask your doctor what’s right for you!

Do you have questions about your health? There is so much information out there that it can be hard to make sense of it all and, more importantly, apply it in our own lives. Dr. Reed Tuckson, Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group, hears this all the time as he travels the country speaking about preventive healthcare and clinical medicine and talking to readers of the “Ask Dr. Reed Q&A” column or his book, The Doctor in the Mirror. Dr. Reed cannot provide individual responses but he may address your idea in a future column, which you can read right here on Facebook. If you are seeking personal advice, please consult your doctor, specialist, or nurse.