Heart attack symptoms in women differ from men

KUALA LUMPUR - Unexplained fatigue and shortness of breath are two of the most common symptoms of heart attack in women, said National Heart Institute (IJN) CEO Tan Sri Dr Robaayah Zambahari.

"Heart attack symptoms in women differ from men," said Dr Robaayah, who is also Women's Heart Health Organisation (WHO) chairman.

Because women who develop heart attacks usually do not experience chest pains, they are often given lower priority than men who would usually come in with chest pains at hospitals.

Dr Robaayah said the best chance of surviving a heart attack was to reach the hospital in time but women often missed out on early treatment as many would come late due to the atypical symptoms.

"Generally, about 50 per cent of those who experience heart attacks die before they reach the hospital," she said.

Out of those who reach the hospital, one-third of them would die.

Dr Robaayah encouraged women who experienced symptoms like unexplained fatigue and shortness of breath to remind the attending medical personnel of the possibility of a heart attack, particularly when they had risk factors.

Although heart disease and strokes are two to three times likelier to happen in post-menopausal women above 60 years old, women can develop both at a younger age if they have risk factors such as a family history of heart disease, hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes or obesity.

According to Dr Robaayah, the youngest person who had a heart attack in the country was a 19-year-old boy.

In Malaysia, one out of four women dies of heart attack and stroke and the trend has not changed for the last decade.

"Death due to heart attacks and strokes is almost two and a half times more common than death due to all cancers combined," she said.

A survey, which polled 5,195 respondents between 20 and 70 years old last year, found that most of them were aware of the risk factors for heart disease.

However, many still thought that cancer was the top killer of Malaysian women.

"I think that many have knowledge about the disease and its risk factors but many still think that it would not happen to them," added Dr Robaayah.

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