Women and Heart Attacks: Symptoms are not always the same as men

May 7, 2019

Would you recognize the signs if you were having a heart attack? Many women assume that heart attack symptoms are the same for women as they are for men, but that’s not always the case. Men may experience intense pressure on their chests (many say it feels like an elephant is sitting on them) and acute arm pain and shortness of breath.

But a woman’s experience can be very different.

What’s the difference?

Many women who have suffered a heart attack say that they never experienced the acute pain that many men complain of. In fact, a heart attack can disguise itself as a “simple” case of indigestion or unusual fatigue in many women. Other symptoms that may not immediately indicate a heart attack include dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting or back or jaw pain.

Needless to say, a mis-diagnosis of a heart attack can be fatal. Waiting for medical help can be fatal as well.

What puts women at increased risk of a heart attack? A family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol can be warning signs that a heart attack may be looming. Additionally, women who have reached menopause age are at an increased risk, because their bodies’ estrogen production has dropped.

So what’s a woman to do?

If you know you’re at an increased risk for a heart attack because you meet some or all of the criteria above, talk to your doctor about preventative measures. These may include certain medications or changes in your diet or exercise routine.

It’s important for women to take an active role in their heart health by managing your risk factors:

  1. Don’t smoke.
  2. Lower your cholesterol.
  3. Maintain a normal weight.
  4. Exercise.
  5. Manage your diabetes if you have the condition.

Also, try to keep your stress in check. Many of the heart attack warning signs for women are similar to what happens when you’re stressed, so often they go unrecognized.

But, if the warning signs of a heart attack come on, dial 911 right away. If something feels “off,” don’t hesitate to call paramedics. When they arrive, tell them your symptoms and include that you think you might be having a heart attack. Minutes matter when facing a heart attack.

Gone are the days that heart attacks are just for men. Women need to be vigilant when it comes to their heart health and should discuss any concerns with their physician.

Want to know more about women and heart disease? Visit our online Women and Heart Disease Health Library.

Also, view the American Heart Association’s “Just a Little Heart Attack” video starring Elizabeth Banks.