Contrary to popular belief, suffering a heart attack is not primarily a “man’s health issue.” The myth persists because some heart attack signals, particularly in women, are subtle, leading to misdiagnosis and death. Fifteen percent more women than men die of heart attacks.

Tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, sweating and spreading pain in the shoulders, neck, arm and jaw are classic heart attack symptoms. Indigestion, dizziness, nausea and fatigue can also be signals, and these are what women often experience. Also indicative of conditions that are not life threatening, these signs are sometimes not recognized for what they are. Four out of every ten people who suffer heart attacks die. With increased awareness of subtle symptoms, more lives could be saved.

Call 9-1-1 at the first signs of a heart attack. The sooner emergency treatment is administered, the more likely a victim will survive.

Avoid Heart Attack and Stroke

Practice Good Eating Habits

Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fats.

Select fat-free, one percent and low-fat dairy products.

Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans (unsaturated) fat.

Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol.

Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.

Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. One teaspoonful of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.

Drink alcohol in moderation. Women should have no more than one drink per day (1.5 oz. of hard liquor or 5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. of beer), and men should have no more than two.

See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity for more tips on nutrition.


Exercise is essential for good health. To achieve and maintain healthy body weight, adults should do the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Children and adolescents ages six and older should engage in 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day. Youngsters between the ages of two and five should engage in active play several times a day.

Take Your Medicine

You can reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke even if you have CAD, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. Always take your prescribed medication for these conditions as directed.

What is a heart attack?

Heart attacks are one manifestation of coronary artery disease (CAD), the leading cause of death in the United States. A heart attack or acute myocardial infarction (AMI) occurs when a build-up of plaque, a fatty conglomeration of cholesterol and calcium, blocks and hardens the heart’s arteries. Clots develop that disrupt blood flow. Plaque can also cause angina and arrhythmia.

Angina is a debilitating chest pain often triggered by exercise, stress, eating and even cold weather. Rest and medication sometimes relieve symptoms but are not a cure. Angina can also be indicative of an imminent heart attack.

Arrhythmia (erratic heartbeat) develops from insufficient blood flow to the heart causing lightheadedness, shortness of breath and chest pain. Medication and surgery can treat arrhythmia. Undiagnosed or ignored arrhythmia can be fatal.

CAD can be hereditary, but more often, years of bad habits – smoking, sedentary lifestyle and diets high in fats – lead to this disease and to heart attacks. Men and women should note that healthy eating habits and regular physical activity can prevent both.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]