A Answers (15)
Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, as with men women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure. Women may also experience these symptoms:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help.
Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
The following are heart attack symptoms found to be more common in women:
- pain in the arm (especially left arm), back, neck, abdomen or shoulder blades
- jaw pain
- nausea and vomiting
- overwhelming and unusual fatigue, sometimes with shortness of breath
- lightheadedness or sweating
Women are less likely to seek treatment immediately with such symptoms because they are less typical for a heart attack, and doctors may be less likely to diagnose and treat women promptly.
According to the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, some women mistakenly think that only crushing chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack. This misconception causes them to delay seeking medical help.
Sometimes heart attack symptoms are attributed to other health problems, such as indigestion. This is why it is so important to ask your doctor to administer an EKG test or an enzyme blood test.
The most important thing to do if you think you are having heart attack symptoms is to call 911 and tell them you are experiencing heart attack symptoms.
Watch this video to learn more from Dr. Mehmet Oz about heart disease.
Women can experience a heart attack without the typical symptoms. Instead, they may experience non-typical (atypical) symptoms such as pain or discomfort in both arms, back, neck and stomach. They may develop shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort. Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. Their symptoms may be more subtle. Diabetic women are more likely to present with atypical symptoms.
The warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack are different in women than men. According to WomenHeart, The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, heart attack warning signs for women include:
- chest discomfort, pain, squeezing, burning or mild to severe pressure in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes
- upper-body discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
- dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, nausea and vomiting or cold sweats
- feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness -- unexplained or when you are exerting yourself
My heart attack occurred at the end of December. My family was readying for a holiday trip the following day. That morning I'd run over to the grocery to pick up a few last minute items. Suddenly, an overwhelming tube of burning sensation was radiating directly from my back forward into my mid-chest.
I knew women often experience "atypical pain" like jaw pain or nausea with a heart attack, but burning? I kept thinking all the NSAIDs I'd popped the previous week for a cold were causing the discomfort. I continued shopping, clutching my chest, thinking this must be one awful case of heartburn (an ulcer perhaps?). By the time I reach the dairy aisle, I was contemplating slurping some sour cream to cool things off. The pain probably only lasted a matter of minutes and once gone I continued onward with my errands. After all, women aren't supposed to let a little pain get us down, right?
It wasn't until I developed left arm pain that I began to wonder if things weren't going quite as well as I'd thought. I got into the car, and thought, "Do I go to the hospital where they will surely admit me, I'll miss the trip, the hotel is non-refundable, I'll be fine, and my husband will be REALLY mad at me, or do I go home?" You guessed it, I drove home. By the time I reached my street however, the classic signs of a heart attack, crushing pain and shortness of breath, began.
The classic symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort. This is true for women as well; however, women are more likely to present with atypical symptoms. These include shortness of breath, indigestion, upper back pain, jaw pain, palpitations, extreme fatigue, and arm pain.
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Common symptoms of a heart attack in women include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, jaw and back pain. Watch cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, describe these signs and what to do if you think you are having an episode.
Women are more likely to have sudden, sharp-but-short-lived pain outside the breastbone during a heart attack. They also may experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain, and unexplained fatigue or malaise.
Both men and women experience what are called "atypical" heart attack symptoms, but women may experience symptoms that are more vague than the textbook "Hollywood Heart Attack" we imagine when we think about cardiac events. It's important to remember that about 40% of us experience NO chest symptoms at all even in mid-heart attack -- no pressure, no pain, no tightness, no heaviness, NOTHING! When I interviewed other female survivors for my Heart Sisters article called "How Does It Really Feel to Have a Heart Attack?" -- http://myheartsisters.org/2009/08/14/how-does-it-feel/ -- even I was surprised by the wide variety of vague symptoms reported. These included fatigue, cough, vomiting, and others that wouldn't immediately make you think "heart attack" if you experience them. Here are some reported female symptoms of heart attack that may or may not occur:
- atypical pain, discomfort, pressure, heaviness, tightness or fullness in the chest, left or right arms, upper back, shoulder, neck, throat, jaw or stomach
- weakness, fainting, light-headedness, or extreme and unusual fatigue
- shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
- restlessness, insomnia or anxiety
- bluish color or numbness in lips, hands or feet
- nausea or vomiting
- clammy sweats
- a sense of impending doom
Not all of these signs occur in every heart attack. Pay attention if these signs come on suddenly or feel unusual for you. Sometimes symptoms go away and then return. They may come on with exertion or when you’re at rest. Women typically wait longer than men to call for help -- don't be one of these!
Recognizing the symptoms of heart attack in women may not always be as clear-cut as it is for men. The most prominent symptoms that are sure signs of trouble that women should keep an eye out for are:
- Pressure, tightness, fullness, and discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes in waves
- Pain or pressure that spreads to the shoulders, between the shoulder blades, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms
- Jaw or throat pain
- Crushing chest pain
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
- Nausea and/or dizziness
- Cold sweat
- Overwhelming fatigue or weakness
- Abdominal pain
Women often mistakenly think only severe chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack and delay seeking medical care. Many patients say they feel that doctors didn’t take them or their symptoms seriously. Be persistent. You know your body and when you aren’t feeling well. Seek the medical attention you need and deserve.
In a Gallup survey, 88% of primary care physicians were not aware that women's heart-attack symptoms might differ greatly from men's symptoms. In addition, emergency room (ER) physicians miss the signs of a heart attack much more often in women under 55 than in men under 55, according to a recent study published in "The New England Journal of Medicine."
Signs and symptoms of heart attack in women include:
- Chest discomfort
- Pain spreading to the jaw, neck, shoulders, or arm
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion or gas-like pain
- Unexplained weakness or fatigue
- Discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades
- Sense of impending doom
The symptoms that present in women are generally more subtle than those that present in men, causing many women to ignore them. Should you or a loved one experience the following symptoms, please take them seriously:
- Feeling unusually tired
- Feeling pressure in the middle of the back, between the shoulder blades, especially walking up a hill
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Experiencing sleep disturbance, indigestion, and anxiety
- Feeling band-like pressure commonly described as “bra too tight.”
If you believe you or a loved one is having a heart attack, please call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency department immediately. Women tend to delay going to ED, compared with men having heart attacks. Remember, time is muscle - the faster one reaches the ED, the less potential heart damage.
Symptoms of heart attack may be different in women. That’s why understanding the symptoms of a woman’s heart attack is important. Getting immediate medical treatment is vital to avoid serious problems or death with heart attack.
Until the age of 55, men are much more likely than women to have a heart attack. But a woman’s risk of heart attack goes up sharply after menopause. A woman’s heart attack may not start with a sudden pain. Instead, the heart attack may start mildly or cause discomfort. A woman may feel uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain that may come and go. In addition, a woman with a heart attack may have shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. Other signs may include upper back pain and upper abdominal pain, nausea, light-headedness and sweating.
The symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain or discomfort that may radiate to the neck, arm, jaw or back. These symptoms are similar to the most common symptoms men get. However, women more often than men can have shortness of breath, GI symptoms (heartburn, acid reflux, nausea or vomiting), back pain or fatigue as their only symptom of a heart attack.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.