There is no doubt that women today are under more stress than ever. One of the “gifts” left to us by the women’s liberation movement is that we not only get to fry-the-bacon-up-in-a-pan at night, but we are also frequently out there in the workforce bringing-home-the-bacon as well.
Add to that the demands of children, homework, soccer practice, PTA, church and other civic activities, our cup truly RUNS over! Super Girl has nothing on us! It’s no wonder that heart disease is the number one killer of women. Sisters, we have STRESS in our lives!
Just how bad our stress level really is was recently brought home in a very real way to me. One of my best girlfriends just had the “pleasure” of a one-night stay at the local heart “hotel” (hospital). This definitely wasn’t her destination when she left for work that morning. She’s a single-parent of two small preschool children. She’s a widow and has no backup at home. (Are we getting the stress level picture yet?) In addition, she works for a company that’s been laying off workers for months and outsourcing jobs overseas. She’s been working 70-80 hour work weeks for months in an effort to ensure her job stays in the good old USA. (Bingo! Stress level gets a 120%!)
As she recalls it, her chest began pounding and hurting unbearably. She was short of breath and couldn’t breathe - sick to her stomach, sweating, dizzy and lightheaded. The pain radiated down her left arm. She tried to ignore it for a while but as the day progressed, the symptoms only increased in intensity. Finally, she phoned the nurse on call with her insurance company who promptly sent her straight to the hospital for evaluation.
Fortunately, this hospital visit had a happy ending. She was diagnosed with a panic or anxiety attack. Some of the symptoms of a panic attack are similar to those of a heart attack. Panic attack symptoms include: chest pain, sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation (very rapid breathing), and dizziness/faintness. In addition, a panic attack may also be accompanied by a sense of fear or impending disaster. Other panic attack symptoms may also include trembling, headache, chills, hot flashes, stomach cramps, or tightness in the throat and trouble swallowing.
According to the Mayo Clinic, panic attack symptoms generally last about a half an hour. However, there are exceptions and they can last for hours. In addition, there are instances, such as my girlfriend's experienced, where the symptoms can last up to a day.
Symptoms of a heart attack also include chest pain (described as a “fullness or a crushing” type of pain which may radiate to your left arm, back, neck, jaw and shoulders), sweating, shortness of breath, nausea and an “impending sense of doom.” (Sound familiar?) In addition, symptoms in women can be somewhat different than those experienced by men. Women may also experience heartburn, severe/unexplained fatigue, sleep disturbances, dizziness and clammy skin. The Women’s Heart Foundation also reports that approximately 1/3 of all women do not experience any chest pain at all during a heart attack. In addition, 71% of women report that they experienced flu-like in the weeks leading up to the heart attack.
Since some of the symptoms are similar, you may not be able to easily tell whether you are experiencing a panic attack or a heart attack. While a panic attack is not life threatening, a heart attack certainly can be. When in doubt, seek treatment. It is always better to err on the side of safety than to leave a potential heart attack untreated until it’s too late.
Until next time, here’s wishing you a healthy heart.
Chest Pain Definition, The Mayo Clinic, 15 Nov 2007, http://mayoclinic.com/health/chest-pain/DS00016/DSECTION=symptoms
Roger S. Blumenthal, M.D., Is it a Panic (Anxiety) Attack or a Heart Attack?, The John Hopkins Heart Bulletin, 05 July 2006, http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/heart_health/JohnsHopkinsHeartHealth_397-1.html
Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder, The Mayo Clinic, 28 March 2008, http://mayoclinic.com/health/panic-attacks/DS00338
Heart Attack, The Mayo Clinic, 30 Nov 2007, http://mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack/DS00094
McSweeney, Cody, OSullivan, Elberson, Moser, Garvin, Women’s Early Warning Symptoms of Acute Mycardial Infraction, Circulation – Journal of the American Heart Association, 03 Nov 2003, http://circ.ahajournals.org/
Heart Attack Symptoms: An Action Plan for Women, Women’s Heart Foundation, 2007, http://www.womensheart.org/content/HeartAttack/heart_attack_symptoms_risks.asp