In simplest terms, a heart attack occurs when one of the arteries that supplies blood to the heart becomes too blocked to allow blood to reach the heart muscle. Given that the problem lies in the middle of the heart, it would make sense that chest pain would be an obvious heart attack symptom. However, heart attack symptoms for women may or may not include the chest pressure or squeezing sensation that many male heart attack survivors describe.
Instead, women may experience pain or a dull ache anywhere in the upper body. Signs of heart attack in women may show up in the abdomen, upper back, jaw, or neck as well as the chest.
Chest pain or tightness may occur in the center of the chest or just to the left of center. Sometimes chest discomfort spreads from one side of the torso to the other, but this sensation is slightly more common in men.
Additional Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
Other common heart attack symptoms in women include pain in one or both arms. It may be isolated more in the left arm, but don’t let pain in the right arm or in both arms convince you that what you’re experiencing couldn’t be a heart attack.
If any of these symptoms last for more than a few minutes or stop and then return a short time later, call 911.
If the pain or discomfort is accompanied by other typical signs of heart attack in women, it’s that much more important to get help. Heart attack symptoms in women often include shortness of breath and breaking out in a sweat. You may also feel nauseous to the point of vomiting. These signs can occur without chest pain.
Anytime you have difficulty catching your breath, you should seek medical help immediately. It may be related to allergies or a respiratory condition. But shortness of breath, particularly if it comes on without warning, is a symptom that demands an evaluation by a doctor.
If you’re sick to your stomach but there’s no obvious reason, pay close attention to other symptoms. The common signs of a heart attack in women often mimic flu symptoms, which is why many women delay getting emergency help.
Don’t Ignore Symptoms
One of the great tragedies of women and heart disease is that all too often signs of heart attack in women are ignored. Many women don’t believe these odd aches and pains could be a heart attack.
Women tend to be older than men when they experience a heart attack, so there may be a tendency to chalk up symptoms to signs of old age. Or if a woman is living alone, there may not be anyone there to encourage a 911 call.
For many women, a lifetime spent taking care of others meant that their own health concerns sometimes took a backseat. Heart disease remains the number one cause of death for women in the U.S. There’s no reason to ignore heart attack symptoms, especially if you have risk factors such as advanced age, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, high cholesterol, diabetes and a personal or family history of heart problems.
Now that you know the heart attack symptoms for women, take them seriously and call 911 if they appear.
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.