Heart Attack in Women: Symptoms Can Differ From Men

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on February 5, 2019

The classic symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, right?

Not necessarily—especially if you’re a woman.

Women may feel the crushing ‘elephant sitting on my chest’ pain that men often report, but they are more likely to experience other symptoms.

Common signs of a heart attack in women are:

  • Nausea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pain or discomfort in the back, arms, neck, stomach or jaw
  • Uncomfortable pressure in the center of the chest

Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States, and women are more likely than men to succumb to their first heart attack.

Another complicating factor is that women can confuse symptoms like night sweats and fatigue with those of menopause or stress.

“Women often play down heart symptoms as signs of menopause, stress or even panic attacks,” said DeEtta Ray, D.N.P., N.P.-C., co-director of Carilion’s Heart Failure Clinic in Christiansburg.

She advises women with any of the above symptoms to call 911.

Know Your Risks

How can women reduce their risk of a heart attack?

Ray suggests that you know your personal risk factors and take steps to reduce them.

Primary risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol (especially if you have low HDL levels)
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Age 50+ and/or post-menopause
  • Lack of exercise
  • Parents or siblings with heart problems

Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

You don’t have to be one of them.

Watch the video below to learn more about women and heart disease. 

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