Heart Attack Warning Signs in Women

Shortness of breath, nausea, anxiety back or jaw pain. If you have these symptoms – and you are a woman – you may be having a heart attack.

While there have been significant advances in heart disease research and treatment, women are still at a higher risk for dying from heart attacks. The American Heart Association recently issued an important warning about the differences between heart attack signs and their underlying causes in women. Heart attacks in women don’t always feel like the typical chest pain more often experienced by men. Not knowing the symptoms can delay treatment, making heart disease more deadly for women. 

Women and their loved ones need to know what a heart attack looks like so they can get treatment fast. While chest pain and discomfort is a common heart attack symptom in both men and women, women are more likely to experience other signs too, according to the American Heart Association:

Pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly.

If you or someone else experiences any of these warning signs, dial 9-1-1 immediately.

We also know now that causes of heart attacks in women can differ from men too. Understanding the cause of women’s heart attacks is critical to prescribing the best treatment and increases their change of surviving and preventing another heart attack. Women more often have underlying risk factors like diabetes or high blood pressure and their blood vessels tend to be smaller. Yet, guideline-recommended medications and cardiac rehabilitation are not prescribed as often for women.

Unfortunately, some women are in more danger than others. Black women of any age have a higher incidence of heart attacks of all women. And black and Hispanic women more often have related risk factors like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure compared to non-Hispanic white women.  

Heart disease continues to be the number one killer for women, with more deaths each year than all forms of cancer combined. Prevention and treatment can be effective in reducing the chance of having or dying from a heart attack. If you or a woman who is special to you has risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, is a smoker, or has a personal or family history of heart disease, consider talking to a physician. Women too often sacrifice their health to take care of others. This month, make women’s heart health a priority.

About the Author: Dr. Mitesh Amin is a board-certified cardiologist and founder of James River Cardiology. He is also an active member of the medical staff at The Center for Heart and Vascular Care at Southside Regional Medical Center.