Top 5 Heart Attack Signs in Women

Women may not recognize these other symptoms as signs of a heart attack.

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By Patrick Sullivan

You might think of a heart attack as a “man’s problem,” but more than 53,000 women in the United States die of heart attacks each year. Most women don't realize that heart screenings should begin at age 20. And while chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women, women are less likely to have chest pain and more likely to have symptoms easily mistaken for another condition.

Click through to learn more about the top 5 heart attack signs in women. 

Unusual fatigue

2 / 7 Unusual fatigue

In a study published in the American Journal of Critical Care, of 256 people who had heart attacks, fatigue was reported by more than 60 percent of women, making unusual fatigue the second most common symptom for women in that study after chest pain. According to the American Heart Association, only 10 percent of women realize that fatigue can be a symptom of a heart attack.

Indigestion and heartburn

3 / 7 Indigestion and heartburn

Heart attack symptoms can be mistaken for heartburn or indigestion. In the same American Journal of Critical Care study, researchers found that women were “significantly” more likely than men to experience the burning pain of heartburn during a heart attack.

If the heartburn or indigestion doesn’t go away on its own, if you have shortness of breath or sweating, or if you didn’t eat or drink anything or take any medications that might cause heartburn, get checked out.

Pain in the neck, jaw, arms, stomach or back

4 / 7 Pain in the neck, jaw, arms, stomach or back

Along with chest pain, pain in the left arm is a classic symptom of a heart attack. But pain from a heart attack can radiate throughout the upper body, including the neck, jaw, shoulders, either or both arms, stomach or back. In a 2014 study of 736 people in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that women were twice as likely as men to report pain in the arm or shoulder during an acute coronary syndrome event, of which heart attack is one (unstable angina is the other).

Nausea and vomiting

5 / 7 Nausea and vomiting

According to another study published in Gender Medicine, women were much more likely than men to report being nauseated during a heart attack. More than half of the women in the study experienced nausea, compared to less than a third of the men.

Nausea (and vomiting) are symptoms of many conditions, so it’s important to be aware of other symptoms of a heart attack, especially chest pain, if you’re nauseated or throwing up.

Shortness of breath

6 / 7 Shortness of breath

If you’re winded like you’ve just run a marathon but you haven’t gotten off the couch, take note. Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is a common symptom of heart attack in women. A 2016 analysis of 16 studies found that a quarter of them showed a greater chance of women having dyspnea during a heart attack than men.

Shortness of breath may or may not be accompanied by chest pain.

What to do

7 / 7 What to do

If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 right away. The operator may advise you to chew aspirin if you’re not allergic. Do not drive yourself or have someone drive you to the hospital. Emergency medical personnel are trained to respond to cardiac emergencies and can start treatment on the way. If you can get treatment within 90 minutes, your chance of recovery is much higher.

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