No matter whether you are a man or woman, a heart attack is life-threatening if not treated quickly and correctly.
Unlike men, however, heart attack signs in women are “weak” and difficult to spot until sometimes the problem has reached an advanced stage and is tough to treat because the heart is damaged.
Often we hear of heart attacks happening to men, said Kedah Medical Centre (KMC) heart specialist, Dr Abd Rahim Tahir, but women are at risk, too, especially if they have chronic hypertension or diabetes.
“Heart disease is equal in severity and treatment for men and women, but its detection is considered ‘behind’ in women because the signs are not as obvious. Women fail to get proper and early treatment because of this.
“Some specialists also say there is usually delayed risk (of a heart attack) because the menstrual cycle and hormones that are produced reduce the chances of a heart problem,” he told Bernama.
Dr Abd Rahim said that unlike men who experience unmistakeable heart attack symptoms, like sharp chest pain, women sometimes describe feeling tired, sweating or having chest discomfort or a rapid heartbeat.
“There are many reasons for tiredness, like fever or hypoglycaemia, which is common in diabetic patients. What is being described is abnormal tiredness, or if you’re sweating, it is unusual, for example, if you normally sweat after 2 - 3 hours of doing work and now you sweat profusely after moving a little bit.
“I have many female patients with this symptom pattern and after getting tested discover they actually have a heart problem. Sometimes an electrocardiogram (ECG) may not reveal a problem, but a stress test can,” he said.
Dr Abd Rahim said non-obvious symptoms of a heart attack often occur in people who are over 60 years old or have chronic diabetes.
“Diabetics suffer from a sensory nerve problem … they don’t feel pain; the sensation is not strong. There are nerves connected to the heart, too, so heart attack signs are less obvious to them,” he said.
He said the response to a patient who has delayed seeking treatment becomes complex and the person may not return to full health because the heart is already damaged.
For this reason, women should be alert to the changes in themselves and how to measure their health to pick up on the non-obvious symptoms.
Dr Abd Rahim advises to eat healthy, as recommended by the Ministry of Health, including eating a lot of vegetables or ulam (raw vegetables), and food cooked with less oil and salt.
“Apart from this, people always say Q10 is good, whether in vitamin or capsule form, and some oils contain a lot of Q10, too, like olive oil.
“Q10 is an enzyme used in the body to reduce the conversion of unsaturated fat to saturated fat. If the amount of saturated fat is low, there is a lower risk of artery blockage and a heart attack occurring,” he said.