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Are heart attack symptoms different for men and women?

Dr. David K. Singh, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Symptoms of heart attack can differ in men and women. Men usually feel classic symptoms such as chest pain. While women may have chest pain during a heart attack, they may also have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and belly pain. It is important for both men and women to see their doctor on a regular basis, because some of these processes may take a long time develop and may be caught early.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptoms is chest pain or discomfort. Classic angina, or chest pain due to low blood flow to the heart muscle, is typically described as uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or heaviness over the left anterior chest. It can radiate to the left arm or jaw, and is usually brought on by exertion. It can last for several minutes, it may come and go.

Women can experience a heart attack without these typical symptoms. Instead, they may experience 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 be 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.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

While men typically feel the crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks, women’s symptoms tend to seem unrelated to chest pain, such as abdominal or upper back discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, light headedness or sweating.

Yes, while men experience chest pain, 45 percent of women with heart attacks do not. Symptoms in women can include nausea, indigestion, sweating, shortness of breath, fatigue or jaw pain.

Many women do not experience chest pain during a heart attack, but may experience nausea, indigestion, sweating and shortness of breath.

When a heart attack strikes, seconds count for everyone, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity. Any delay in treating a heart attack increases the chance of permanent, irreparable damage to the heart—and any heart attack can be fatal!

Men and women share some heart attack symptoms in common, but women are more likely to experience symptoms that are not commonly thought of as indicators of a heart attack. If you do find that you are having any one or a combination of the following symptoms, call 911 immediately:

Warning Signs Not Unique to Women

  • Chest pain or discomfort: Heart attacks can involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or stabbing pain.
  • Remember: Heart attacks are not always preceded by chest pain. Other common symptoms that can represent a heart attack include:
  • pain radiating to the neck, shoulder, back, arm, or jaw
  • pounding heart, change in rhythm
  • difficulty breathing
  • heartburn, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
  • cold sweats or clammy skin
  • dizziness

Warning Signs Particularly Common in Women

  • sudden onset of weakness, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, indigestion, fatigue, body aches, or overall feeling of illness (without chest pain)
  • unusual feeling or mild discomfort in the back, chest, arm, neck, or jaw (without chest pain)
  • sleep disturbance
  • anxiety

Although the most common sign of a heart attack in both men and women is chest pain or discomfort, other symptoms tend to vary depending on your gender:

Symptoms of a heart attack in men include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest
  • Pain or discomfort that radiates to the upper body, especially shoulders or arms and neck
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness

Symptoms of a heart attack in women include:

  • Pressure, aching, or tightness in the center of the chest (although not as frequently as in men)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness; unusual fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Back or jaw pain
Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

There can be some differences in the signs and symptoms that women and men experience when they are having a heart attack. The most common sign of a heart attack is chest discomfort (pain or pressure) in the middle of the chest lasting more then five minutes. Other signs that may go along with the chest discomfort are nausea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness or lightheadedness. Many times women experience shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, pain in the jaw, arms, back along with the nausea and vomiting. If any or all of these symptoms are experienced immediate medical attention is needed. Call 911 to seek immediate medical attention as quickly as possible.

Both men and women experience the most common signal for a heart attack: chest pain or discomfort. However, women may experience many other signals that are different than men.

Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women? The symptoms of a heart attack vary between a woman and a man. The heart attack symptoms in women include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that fades in and out.
  • 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.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But 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 911 and get to a hospital right away.

This content originally appeared on StoneCrest Family Physicians Blog.

Dr. Kelly A. Spratt, DO
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Heart attack symptoms in women are likely to be different from those experienced by men. Both men and women may experience common symptoms of pain or pressure in the chest, but women may also have these less obvious symptoms:

  • Discomfort in the back, shoulders, arms, stomach, jaw, neck or throat
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Inability to sleep
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Every second counts. If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Dr. Andrea C. Bryan, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Though men and women may not necessarily have different presenting symptoms of heart attack, women are more likely to attribute their symptoms to something other than heart disease. Typical symptoms of heart attack include chest heaviness, oppression, and retrosternal burning. However, women may also present with more atypical symptoms such a nausea, dyspnea (shortness of breath), and diaphoresis (sweatiness). These atypical symptoms are called "anginal equivalents" and may be indicators of heart attack by themselves.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Dr. Suzanne R. Steinbaum, DO
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Women's heart attack symptoms are different and subtler than in men; she may have chest pain, but shortness of breath, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, back pain and nausea are also common. Watch me as I explain these symptoms.

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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.