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Ah-choo! Hay fever, heart disease, and all kinds of allergies
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Shortness of breath. Dizziness. Nausea. Symptoms of an allergic reaction, a heart attack — or both? Studies show that women are often misdiagnosed when having a heart attack, and also that women tend to downplay their own symptoms, thereby delaying treatment. This can become even more complex when symptoms overlap —you could be suffering from an overdose of spring pollen, but it’s important to know the signs and act accordingly. Allergies and heart attacks do share several symptoms but have important differences as well; heart attacks tend to be accompaniedby chest tightness, pain that extends to the abdominal area, breaking out into a cold sweat, and upper body pain that could include the jaw, shoulders, and upper back.

Allergies, on the other hand, can have a variety of different symptoms, depending on what type of allergy it is. If you are a woman with heart disease, you may be trying to handle a multitude of medications — some of which can produce an allergic reaction —while also coping with seasonal or food allergies. Before taking any allergy medications-- whether over-the-counter or prescribed -- check with your health care provider or pharmacist to make sure that none of your medications will negatively interact with each other. Make sure that you also tuck a "Medications Card” into your wallet — this is a potentially live-saving list of all the medications that you are currently taking as well as any allergies you might have (such as to penicillin, eggs, or wasps). In case of an emergency, medical personnel will often check for this type of information so that you can be appropriately treated when you are unable to speak for yourself.

If you take beta-blockers, commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, angina,arrhythmia, and congestive heart failure, then you must talk with your physician about switching to another medication if you are planning to start any allergy treatments.You should also be sure that your doctor is aware of any allergies you might have to food or dyes before even taking beta-blockers, because your allergies might actually become more severe as a result of an interaction with the beta-blockers themselves. A small percentage of people also have a sensitivity to aspirin, commonly taken as a preventative measure against heart attacks; aspirin can even cause serious asthma attacks in people who already have asthma or sinus problems.

If you think you are having a severe allergic reaction, you should promptly call 911 — do not wait. If you are having mild but ongoing symptoms which you think could possibly be an allergy to a medication, food, or other substance, talk to your doctor, who may want to switch you to different medications, or even send you to see an allergist who may be able to better pinpoint the problem. Sometimes it can be a long process to determine the source of an allergy, but your persistence will pay off in the end!

There are many types of allergy symptoms. Here are a few of the most common:

• congestion

• runny nose

• itchy, watery eyes

• swelling of the lips, tongue, face or throat

• itchy or red skin

• hives

• coughing or wheezing

• shortness of breath

• nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea

• dizziness

A severe allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening medical emergency. Symptoms include:

• loss of consciousness

• severe breathing problems

• rapid, weak pulse

• rapid drop of blood pressure

• lightheadedness


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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the nearly 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.

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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a founding partner of The Heart Truth Red Dress campaign. The Heart Truth and Red Dress are trademarks of HHS.