In the movies, a heart attack is depicted as a dramatic moment”the person clutching his or her chest (usually his) and crying out in pain. In reality, women can suffer a heart attack without any chest pain. The experience might feel like extreme fatigue, pain in the back or jaw or light-headedness. With such apparently small symptoms, a life or death moment can be hard to spot.
It’s important for women to know how to identify a heart attack and what to do when it happens.
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women. Heart attacks kill more than 250,000 women a year in the United States, yet many can’t name the signs that are unique to women. Look out for:
- Pressure or fullness in your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or dissipates and returns
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest pain
- Nausea, cold sweats or light-headedness
- Pain in your arms, neck, back or jaw
- Extreme fatigue
Women are more likely than men to experience these other symptoms with or without chest pain. If you experience these symptoms, call 911 or the emergency number in your neighborhood and chew aspirin as directed by a doctor. It’s important to act quickly to limit damage to the heart.
Heart attacks usually develop when an area of plaque in your arteries breaks open, causing a blood clot to form. If the blood clot grows too large, it will block the flow of blood to the heart. The part of the heart that doesn’t receive blood begins to die.\
Taking aspirin prevents the blood’s ability to clot. By inhibiting the growth of the blood clot, some blood may be able to reach the heart to prevent further damage.
Bayer Aspirin and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, have teamed up to start Handbags & Hearts, a campaign that encourages women to carry aspirin in their purses in case of emergency. For $5, they’re offering a Heart Attack Preparedness Kit with your emergency aspirin, warning signs of a suspected heart attack and tips for what to do in case of a heart attack.
Aspirin has been used as a pain reliever for more than 100 years. Since the 1970s, it’s also been used to prevent and manage heart disease and stroke. In fact, a low-dose aspirin each day for at least 10 years can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 10%.
How Does It Help the Heart?
It eases inflammation. Plaque may be more likely to cause a heart attack or stroke if it’s inflamed. Aspirin blocks an enzyme called cyclooxygenase. That makes your body less likely to produce chemicals that can help cause inflammation.
It helps prevent blood clots. Some chemicals in the blood trigger events that cause blood clots. When aspirin stops those chemicals, it helps slow the formation of the clots. That’s important because they can clog the arteries that bring blood to heart muscle and the brain, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
It reduces your risk of death. Taking aspirin regularly can lower your risk of death from all causes, particularly among:
- The elderly
- People with heart disease
- People who are physically unfit
Who Could Benefit?
- People with coronary artery diseaseor atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Those who have had a heart attack
- People who have had bypass surgery, angioplasty or stent placement to treat heart disease
- Folks who have had a transient ischemic attack(TIA) or ischemic stroke
If you have symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away. If you don’t have an aspirin allergy, EMS personnel may ask you to chew one standard, 325-milligram aspirin slowly. It’s especially effective if you take it within 30 minutes of your first symptoms.
If you’re at risk for heart disease, carrying an aspirin with you in case of emergency might be a lifesaving technique.
What Are the Risks?
- It can increase your chance of having stomachulcers and abdominal bleeding.
- During a stroke, aspirin can boost your risk of bleeding into the brain.
What are the Benefits?
- Aspirin can greatly reduce the damage to your heartduring a heart attack.
- It can help prevent future heart problems after a heart attack.
- It can reduce your risk of stroke.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of aspirin therapy before you begin a regular regimen.
How Much Should I Take?
Research says between 80 milligrams and 160 milligrams per day. This is less than half of the standard 325-milligram aspirin most people are prescribed.
Many studies show the lower dose works just as well as the higher dose. It also drops your risk of internal bleeding. A baby aspirin contains 81 milligrams. There are other lower-dose adult aspirins available.
Check with your doctor first to find out what dose is right for you.
How Should I Take It?
First, tell your doctor if you are allergic to aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. If you get the go-ahead to start an aspirin routine, then:
- Don’t take it on an empty stomach. Take aspirin with a full glass of water with meals or after meals to prevent stomach upset.
- Don’t break, crush, or chew extended-release tablets or capsules — swallow them whole. Chewable aspirin tablets may be chewed, crushed, or dissolved in a liquid.
- Aspirin should never be taken in place of other medications or treatments recommended by your doctor.
- Never take it with alcohol. That increases your chance of stomach bleeding.
Ask your doctor what other medicines you can take for pain relief or minor colds while you take aspirin. Read the labels of all pain relievers and cold products to make sure they’re aspirin-free. Other drugs with aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may cause bleeding when taken with your regular aspirin therapy.
Before any surgery, dental procedure, or emergency treatment, tell the doctor or dentist that you’re taking aspirin. You might need to stop taking it for 5 to 7 days before your procedure.
Are There Side Effects?
Yes. Some common ones include:
- Upset stomach
- Trouble sleeping
Call your doctor if any of these become severe or do not go away.
Contact him right away if you have:
- Severe stomach painor heartburn
- Serious nausea or vomiting
- Blood in the urine or stool
- Any unusual bruising
- Heavy bleeding from cuts
- Black, tarry stools
- Coughing up blood
- Heavy menstrual bleeding or unexpected vaginal bleeding
- Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Facial swelling
- An asthma attack
- Ringing in the ears
- Severe headache
Who Shouldn’t Take Aspirin?
- Children younger than age 18 who are recovering from a viral infectionsuch as the flu or chickenpox should not take aspirin.
- Pregnant women (unless otherwise directed by your doctor)
- People about to have surgery
- Heavy drinkers
- Those with ulcers or any other bleeding problem
- Folks who take regular doses of other pain medications, such as Motrin(unless otherwise directed by your doctor)
- People allergic to aspirin
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