Newswise — Knowing that women often experience different heart attack symptoms than men is important information for women and for those who love them, not only during National Heart month but year-around.

Being able to recognize those symptoms - knowing what to do and acting quickly - can save a life, according to C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., Medical Director of both the Women's Health Program and the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Bairey Merz is also Chair of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored multi-center study, Women's Ischemic Syndrome Evaluation (WISE), which is investigating the potential for more effective diagnostic and evaluation methods of coronary artery disease in women.

"Men often experience the traditional symptoms of heart attacks such as squeezing chest pain or pressure, while more subtle symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting and back and jaw pain are more likely in women," notes Bairey Merz, who also holds the Women's Guild Chair in Women's Health at Cedars-Sinai.

Women themselves don't always recognize that they're suffering a heart attack and, in some cases, their physicians mistake their symptoms for signs of stress, panic disorder or hypochondria. Unfortunately, delays in diagnosis and proper treatment can significantly reduce a woman's chances of having a good outcome after a heart attack.

While it's important to recognize the signs of a heat attack, it's also important to know what to do and to act quickly. "Getting immediate, appropriate care is the single most important thing you can do to help lessen the damage of a heart attack," advises Bairey Merz.

Here's what to do if you suspect you or someone else is having a heart attack:

1. Take immediate action; call 9-1-1 immediately. Don't take time trying to reach your doctor. And don't try to drive yourself or someone else to the hospital in this situation. Remember, every minute of delay means more heart muscle is damaged.

2. Chew one aspirin. Most heart attacks are caused by blood clots in the arteries, and aspirin reduces the growth of these clots.

3. CPR. If the person is not breathing, start cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you haven't taken a class in CPR, sign up today. It might be the best present you ever give to someone you care about.