What are the symptoms of a heart attack in women?

Dr. Karol E. Watson, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The symptoms of a heart attack in women include the usual symptoms for a heart attack: chest pain, chest pressure or chest discomfort. These symptoms, certainly, may occur in women but heart attacks in women often have other symptoms like:

  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • overwhelming fatigue (not just tiredness)
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain

A good rule of thumb is that any uncomfortable symptom between the navel and the nose that comes on with exertion (either emotional or physical) and goes away with rest should be checked out. 

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.

Dr. Eileen A. Kelly, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

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.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)
Watch this video to learn more from Dr. Mehmet Oz about heart disease.

Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

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.


Dr. Chetan A. Patel, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

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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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
Carolyn  Thomas
Healthcare Specialist

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 percent 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?"——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!

Common symptoms of a heart attack in men and women include:

  • A crushing, squeezing or burning pain, pressure or fullness in the center of the chest. The pain may radiate to the neck, one or both arms, the shoulders or the jaw. The chest discomfort lasts more than a few minutes or can go away and return
  • Shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, chills, sweating or weak pulse
  • Cold and clammy skin, gray pallor or a severe appearance of illness
  • Fainting (rare)

In addition to the above, women commonly have atypical symptoms, including:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Pain in areas including the jaw, neck, arms, upper back and upper stomach
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
Dr. Audrey G. Kunin, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

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.

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

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.

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

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
  • Paleness
  • 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.

Dr. Richard Scherczinger, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

In a Gallup survey, 88 percent 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
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Indigestion or gas-like pain
  • Dizziness
  • Unexplained weakness or fatigue
  • Discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades
  • Sense of impending doom
Dr. Mary A. McLaughlin, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

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.

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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.