Heart attack or stroke? Know the warning signs

By CANDY WAYLOCK candy@northsidewoman.com Heart disease takes the lives of more women each year than all cancers – combined – making it the leading cause of death for women in the United States. While the month of February is celebrated for love and other matters of the heart, have you considered the actual health of your heart? The American Heart Association (AHA) defines ideal cardiovascular health based on seven health factors: smoking status, weight, physical activity, healthy diet, cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as the absence of a diagnosed heart disease. Based on this definition, 94 percent of U.S. adults have at least one “unhealthy” factor, and 38 percent have at least three of the seven factors – for an overall “needs improvement” grade across the board. The AHA has set a goal for America by 2020 — to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent and reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. Lofty goals perhaps, but preventive actions, combined with even small changes in behavior, are the best defense against heart disease. “For women, check your blood pressure and get screened for diabetes, especially if there is a family history, and high cholesterol,” said Dr. Michael Waller of Cardiology of South Forsyth.  “And if you are a smoker, stop smoking!” Symptoms of stroke and heart attack often mimic each other, so it is important to know the warning signs, and act quickly.  

Heart attack

Heart attacks occur when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. Symptoms of heart attack include:

•    Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest which lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. •    Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. •    Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. •    Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Women, however, are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Waller emphasizes if you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help.  


A stroke occurs when a blood vessel feeding the brain gets clogged or bursts. As with heart attack symptoms, don’t wait before calling for help – medical care within three hours of symptoms can save your life. Symptoms of a stroke include:

•    Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body. •    Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding. •    Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes. •    Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination. •    Sudden severe headache with no known cause.


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