Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

» Request a referral to a John C. Lincoln cardiac specialist.

Knowing the warning signs of heart disease and heart attack can save your life. This is especially true for women, who often experience heart attack symptoms differently from men.

Heart attack symptoms in women are often quite subtle and, consequently, hard to read. Medical professionals refer to these subtle heart attack symptoms in women as "atypical" symptoms. Women's heart attack symptoms — particularly feelings of indigestion and stomach upset — often do not resemble classic heart attack symptoms.

Heart Attack Symptoms for Women and Men:
Similarities and Differences

The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. When chest pain occurs, it usually feels like discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes. This pain may come and go.

However, especially for women, chest pain is not always severe — or even the most prominent heart attack symptom. Women are less likely than men to feel severe chest pain. Instead, women are more likely to experience "atypical" symptoms, such as:

  • Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Sweating.
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Unusual fatigue.

Because women may not experience severe pain during a heart attack, they — and their physicians — should take milder chest pain seriously. Further, atypical symptoms can be far less obvious to the uninformed patient and physician. Many women tend to arrive in emergency rooms after much heart damage has already occurred because their symptoms are not those typically associated with a heart attack.

Above all, remember that "time is muscle." The sooner that medical care is provided to a heart attack patient, the less damage is inflicted upon the heart. If you experience these symptoms or think you're having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately.

Many women delay calling 9-1-1 because they don't want to bother or worry others, especially if their symptoms turn out to be a false alarm. Do not wait for a more convenient time to call for help. Do not drive yourself to the emergency room. Learn more about surviving a heart attack.

Why Do Women Experience a Unique Set of Heart Attack Symptoms?

Researchers are investigating why women often experience different heart attack symptoms than men. One study suggests that women and men perceive pain in different ways. Because women have a lower pain threshold, they may be more likely to notice a wider range of symptoms, and perceive these symptoms as being more intense. Women also may be more likely to report chest pain as being severe.

Other findings have shown that women tend to have blockages in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart, not merely the main arteries. This condition, called small vessel heart disease, may explain why women feel heart attack pain in the shoulders, upper back, neck, jaw and abdomen.

» Request a referral to a John C. Lincoln cardiac specialist.