This subtle sign of a heart attack is something that many people often ignore
In a recent clip from the “Today” show, Chantrice Holliman, a mother, wife, and heart health educator based in Georgia, She shared a story of a heart attack and what seemed like fairly benign symptoms that accompanied it.
Holliman experienced nausea, vomiting and mild chest pressure. The first two symptoms — not usually associated with heart attacks — led her to believe the sensations had more to do with the dinner she had eaten the night before than a serious medical problem.
Like Holliman, many people don’t know that stomach symptoms can actually be signs of a heart attack. Although nausea isn’t the most common warning sign (chest pain is the most common), nausea is also not uncommon during a cardiac event, according to Dr. Sean Heffron, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health.
“It tends to depend to some extent on which blood vessels in the heart are affected,” Heffron explained. Additionally, nausea is more common in women, Heffron said, as is vomiting.
Other signs of a heart attack in women include jaw pain, neck pain, chest discomfort, upper abdominal pain, back pain, and excessive fatigue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s very important to hear stories like this, because many women think it should be like, ‘I’m holding my chest and falling to the floor like you see in the movies,’ and it can be much more accurate,” the doctor says. Tara Narula, a cardiologist and NBC News medical contributor, told the “Today” show.
Heart attacks can look very different in women than in men, which means they are sometimes dismissed by patients and doctors alike. But it is important to recognize the signs, especially since heart disease “is the leading cause of death for women in this country,” Narula told the “Today” program. “One woman dies every 80 seconds from cardiovascular disease.”
How to tell if your nausea is part of a heart attack
“As far as we know, it’s rare for (nausea) to be the only symptom of a heart attack,” Heffron explained. In Holliman’s case, for example, she also said she noticed pressure in her chest.
“Certainly a heart attack is not the most common cause of nausea,” Heffron said. Food poisoning, stomach flu, and motion sickness are the most common causes.
So, don’t panic the next time you feel nauseous. But if you notice additional heart attack symptoms besides nausea or vomiting — such as chest pain, sweating, heart palpitations or dizziness — it may be a cause for concern.
This is doubly true for someone with heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, Heffron said.
In the absence of these additional symptoms, nausea may not be a cause for serious concern. “Sometimes, nausea is the only symptom, but I think this is somewhat of an exception,” Heffron said. “It’s not common.”
How to take care of your heart health
It’s easy to ignore symptoms that you don’t think indicate a heart attack, but it’s important to understand the signs of heart disease and how they appear in women.
Furthermore, you should know what you can do to take better care of your heart. You can use the American Heart Association’s Essential Life Checklist as a resource for maintaining or improving your cardiovascular health, Heffron said.
Best practices include eating a diet full of whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Get enough exercise. Managing factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Get enough sleep. And refrain from smoking. All of these behaviors can help keep your heart healthy.
“Obtaining optimal cardiovascular health includes focusing on these eight metrics,” Heffron noted.
If you are feeling unwell, you should not ignore the symptoms, no matter how minor they may be.
“I don’t want to exaggerate it and … scare people (by saying) that all nausea is a heart attack. Either way, it’s not,” Heffron said. “But by no means is chest pain the only symptom of a heart attack.”
Other, less obvious signs may be your strongest symptoms, and it’s important to get checked if you suspect it at all.
“If you’re feeling unwell and concerned about what’s going on, and in particular, if you have risk factors for cardiovascular disease…those should be reasons to see a doctor,” Heffron said. “Do not hesitate if there is any concern.”This article originally appeared on HuffPost.