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Healthwise Maui

Q: What are the signs of heart attack in women?

Dr. Colin Lee, interventional cardiology, Pacific Permanente Group: Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S., but many women miss the signs that they are having a heart attack. That’s often because the symptoms can be different for women than they are for men. Many women mistake a heart attack for something like the flu, acid reflux or just being stressed.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain pressure — like an elephant sitting on your chest. The pressure may last several minutes, or it may go away and then come back. You may also feel pain in one or both arms, or in your neck, jaw or stomach. It’s also common to feel shortness of breath — like you just ran a marathon, even if all you did was walk across the room.

But some women don’t feel chest pain or pressure when they have a heart attack. They may feel short of breath, dizzy or lightheaded. The pain may be in their back, and they may break out in a cold sweat or feel nauseated.

It’s so common for women to put their family first and tough it out when they feel ill, but if you experience any of these symptoms you should take them seriously and call 911 right away. If you’re having a heart attack, getting help quickly could save your life — and there’s nothing more important to your family than that.

For more heart care education and prevention information, stop by Maui’s fifth annual Heart Failure Community Health Fair from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Maui Memorial Medical Center. For more information visit mauihealth.org/calendar.

Q: Should I be screened for an aneurysm if I have a family history of aneurysms?

Dr. Robert Connaughton, vascular surgeon, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic: Aneurysm screening is a procedure to check whether the aorta is dilated or stretched out. The test is an ultrasound scan, which is a painless procedure.

In an aneurysm, the aorta dilates over time, weakening the walls of the blood vessel. Eventually, in some cases, it can rupture. When that happens, the person has only minutes to get to the hospital for a chance of survival. The aneurysm won’t cause any symptoms until it bursts, so the only way someone can know they are at risk is through screening.

Anyone over age 65, or anyone who is over 50 and smokes, should be screened. And because this condition can be hereditary, if you have a relative who has had an aneurysm, you should be checked as well.

Fortunately, if an aneurysm is caught early, there is effective treatment. You can help keep it from growing by controlling your blood pressure. And if intervention is needed, a vascular surgeon can fix the problem by inserting a stent. This can be done in a simple surgery, and the patient usually goes home the next day.

n Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealthsystem.org/contact.

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