Heart Attack Signs And Symptoms For Women And Men
Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death among adults in the United States. A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, happens when a part of the heart muscle doesnt get enough blood. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle, which makes knowing the signs and symptoms of heart attack even more important. Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and intense. More often, though, symptoms start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before a heart attack. It’s important to know how risk and symptoms of heart disease may differ for women and men.
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Weve all seen the movie scenes where a man gasps, clutches his chest and falls to the ground. In reality, a heart attack victim could easily be a woman, and the scene may not be that dramatic.
Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure, said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYUs Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association volunteer. Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.
Even when the signs are subtle, the consequences can be deadly, especially if the victim doesnt get help right away.
What’s The Difference Between A Cardiac Arrest And A Heart Attack
The phrases cardiac arrest and heart attack are often confused, however are different.If youre having a cardiac arrest you will be unconscious, not breathing or not breathing normally. Your heart has stopped pumping blood around your body and youll need CPR and medical attention immediately. During a heart attack you’ll be conscious and breathing, but experiencing chest pain or discomfort.A heart attack is a medical emergency and can lead to cardiac arrest so its important to seek medical attention straight away.
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What Are The Early Signs Of A Heart Attack
There are heart attack symptoms in women that are different from heart attack symptoms in men. But the common signs and symptoms they usually share are as follows:
- Chest pain or discomfort: The discomfort usually lasts for more than a few minutes or it may go away and come back. The discomfort may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain at the center of the chest.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: This may include pain or discomfort in the back, jaw, stomach or in one or both arms.
- Shortness of breath: This may occur with, before or without chest pain or discomfort.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Nausea or light-headedness
Meanwhile, heart attack symptoms in women sometimes go unnoticed. These include the following:
- Pressure, fullness, squeezing pain in the center of the chest, spreading to the neck, shoulder or jaw
- Unusual fatigue
- Treating or managing conditions that can be a risk factors of heart attack such as diabetes
Catch The Signs Early
Dont wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Download the common heart attack warning signs infographic |
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What Should A Man Do For Warnings Signs Of A Heart Attack
Men commonly delay seeking care when they have chest pain and other warning signs of a heart attack. This may be because warning signs of a heart attack often begin slowly, which may lead you to believe your condition is not serious. The best thing you can do if you have any warning signs of a heart attack is to:
Before an emergency happens, have on-hand a list of your medical problems, medications, and doctors name and phone number. This will help speed up your care if you have warning signs of a heart attack. Your family members should also be aware of your medications and medical history in case you are unable to answer questions. Let them know where to find your health information.
Pain In Other Areas Of The Body
Heart attack pain can occur in places other than the chest, like the back, shoulders, arms, neck or jaw. According to Cleveland Clinic, when there’s a problem in the heart, such as a blocked artery, it can trigger the nerves in your heart to give a signal that something is wrong, and you’ll feel pain. Considering the vagus nerve is connected to not only the heart, but also the brain, chest, abdomen, and neck, you may feel those pain signals in other areas of the body aside from the heart region.
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Early Signs Of Heart Disease
The first sign of heart disease is often a heart attack or other serious event. But, there are a few important signs that can help you recognize problems before they come to a head.
In the early stages, symptoms that seem like mere annoyances may come and go. For example, you may have heart arrhythmias, which can cause:
- difficulty catching your breath after moderate physical exertion, like walking up a flight of stairs
- a sense of discomfort or squeezing in your chest that lasts for 30 minutes to a few hours
- unexplained pain in your upper torso, neck, and jaw
- a heartbeat that is faster, slower, or more irregular than usual
- dizziness or fainting
- changes in your extremities, such as pain, swelling, tingling, numbness, coldness, and weakness
- extreme fatigue
- irregular heartbeat
These symptoms can be signs that your blood vessels have narrowed. This narrowing, which can be caused by plaque buildup, makes it more difficult for your heart to circulate oxygenated blood throughout your body.
In addition to the above symptoms, heart disease caused by an infection of the heart can include dry cough, fever, and skin rashes.
A cluster of risk factors may also signal impending heart disease. For example, your risk of heart disease significantly increases if you have diabetes and high blood pressure.
Why Are Men And Women Different
Womens experience of heart attacks and heart disease differ from men because:
- Womens symptoms of heart disease can arise at a much later stage in the illness than men
- Womens symptoms can be milder, vague or unusual
- Some tests used to diagnose heart disease are less accurate in women than in men
- In the event of a heart attack, women are also less likely than men to seek help quickly
- There is also less awareness of the risk and different warning signs of heart attack and heart disease in females.
Because heart disease in women often goes undetected which can delay treatment, the damage caused can be more advanced and outcomes can be poorer than for men.
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Unique Risk Factors For Heart Attacks In Women
According to the American Heart Association, there are different issues within a womans body that may make them pre-disposed to heart attacks.
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What’s The Difference Between Angina And A Heart Attack
Angina is pain felt in your chest often caused by coronary heart disease. As the symptoms of angina are similar to a heart attack, its important to know how to distinguish between the two. If you havent been diagnosed with angina and you start experiencing chest pain that feels similar to the symptoms of a heart attack, phone 999 immediately.If you have angina and you start experiencing chest pain symptoms similar to a heart attack:
- sit down and rest
- use your glyceryl trinitrate spray that youve been prescribed
- if the pain still persists after a few minutes, take another dose of your spray
- if the pain doesnt go away a few minutes after your second dose, dial 999 immediately.
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Preventing A Heart Attack
Some of the risk factors associated with heart attacks are not reversible, such as sex and genetic risk of heart disease.
However, a person can lower their risk of a heart attack by focusing on lifestyle changes, such as:
- Reducing or limiting alcohol intake: Low-to-moderate intake of may have some benefits for heart health. However, excessive drinking can damage the heart.
- Regularly exercising: Regular reduces blood pressure and the risk of death from a heart attack.
- Adopting a Mediterranean diet: that people who consume Mediterranean diets may have better heart health.
- Stopping smoking: The note that the risk of heart problems decrease soon after people quit smoking. This risk continues to decline over time.
What Do I Do If Im Having A Heart Attack
If you experience any of these signs or symptoms:
- Dial 911 immediately, follow the operators instructions and get to a hospital right away.
- Dont drive yourself to the hospital.
- Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for the emergency responders.
Women who think theyre healthy often misread the symptoms of a heart attack because they dont think it could happen to them. Thats why its crucial to learn about heart attack, know your numbers and live heart-healthy.
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
Last Reviewed: Oct 9, 2020
Heart Attack Symptoms Vary
Remember, not all people who have heart attacks have the same symptoms or severity of symptoms. Most heart attacks involve central chest pain, but symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, the jaw, the neck or upper stomach. Some people have mild pain, others have more severe pain, some people have no symptoms and, for certain people, the first sign may be sudden cardiac arrest.
Women are more likely than men to present with atypical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. Therefore, it’s important for everyone to pay attention to all symptoms, not just chest pain.
Sign Of Potential Heart Attack: You Feel Sick To Your Stomach
Sometimes nausea, indigestion, or a burping feeling that wont go away is just a sign of a stomach bug. But it can also signal a problem with your heart.
The nervous system sometimes confuses signals coming from various parts of the body, says Park. The nerves in your gastrointestinal tract are closely intertwined with the nerves from the heart. As a result, a problem that could be brewing in your heart can sometimes translate as stomach discomfort, he explains.
Theres a way to tell a stomach bug from something more serious, though. Usually nausea caused by an impending heart attack will get worse with physical exertion and ease up when you rest.
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Symptoms Of Heart Attack For A Man
A heart attack is a medical emergency, with similar symptoms in males and females. However, certain symptoms may be more common, depending on a persons sex.
This article explores the symptoms of a heart attack for males and females, risk factors, and ways to prevent them.
A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart becomes blocked. Several symptoms may indicate a heart attack. These are:
- Chest discomfort or pain: A person may experience pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of their chest. This may come and go or persist for more than a few minutes.
- Pain or discomfort in other body parts: A person may also experience pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the stomach, jaw, back, or neck.
- Shortness of breath: A person may feel a shortness of breath with or without chest pain.
Some other heart attack symptoms may include:
looks at the differences between males and females in depression levels and rates of complications following a heart attack.
They found females were more likely to develop depressive symptoms and were more likely to experience complications.
Some of the more common complications that people may experience after a heart attack include:
Determining Heart Disease Risk In Women
Women and men share many heart disease risk factors, but recent studies are showing what previous male-focused studies have not shown: Women also have their own unique heart disease risk factors.
Traditional risk factors common to both women and men:
- Metabolic syndrome the co-existence of high blood pressure, obesity, and high glucose and triglyceride levels
- High levels of C-reactive protein a sign of inflammatory disease that can occur along with other cardiovascular risk factors
Some risk factors that relate specifically to women or that can affect women disproportionately include:
- Relatively high testosterone levels prior to menopause
- Increasing hypertension during menopause
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis more common in women than in men
- Stress and depression also more common among women
- Low risk factor awareness Lack of recognition of many of the above conditions as risk factors for heart disease is a risk factor in itself
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Pressure In The Center Of The Chest
Though most people associate heart disease with pain on the left side of the chestwhere the heart is locatedit is actually more common for a person experiencing a heart attack to feel pressure or pain in the center.
“Heart attacks most often cause discomfort in the center of the chest, along with a sensation of unremitting squeezing, fullness, or tightness,” cardiologist Curtis Rimmerman, MD, explained to the Cleveland Clinic. And for more red flags regarding your health, check out 30 Warning Signs Your Heart Is Trying to Send You.
Sign Of Potential Heart Attack: Your Leg Or Hip Cramps Up When You Walk
A cramping or burning sensation in your calves that slowly moves up to your thighs and hips could be bad news. Its a common sign of peripheral artery diseasea narrowing of the arteries that limits blood flow to your limbs, stomach, and head.
That discomfort is caused when not enough blood flows through your legs. Most patients will admit to not being able to walk normal distances without symptoms, or having to stop to rest before they can walk again without symptoms, says Park.
This discomfort could mean your heart is at-risk for potential problems, too. PAD is similar to coronary artery disease, where plaque builds up around the hearts major blood vessels. So the plaque buildup that contributes to the narrowing of your arteries in your limbs may also be occurring in arteries by your heart, too, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And that buildup can significantly up your risk for a heart attack, says Park.
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Lower The Risk Factors You Can Control
The first step to lowering cardiovascular risk is to raise your awareness of the risk factors and symptoms that are particular to women. The next step is to take actions and practice daily behaviors that lower the risk factors you can control.
- Stick to a healthy, low-saturated-fat diet that is high in fiber and low in fatty, processed foods.
- Several times a week, follow a supervised exercise regimen that is both challenging and motivating:
- Benefits of regular exercise include lower blood pressure, lower risk of diabetes, healthier body weight, and stress reduction.
- Exercise at least 3 times per week for at least 30 minutes. Even better, build up to 4-6 times per week for 45 minutes or more.
Heart Attack In Women Over 50
After menopause, which generally occurs around age 50, your risk of heart attack increases. During this period of life, your levels of the hormone estrogen drop. Estrogen is believed to help protect the health of your heart, which could explain why the average age of first heart attack is roughly 5 years older in women than in men.
There are additional symptoms of a heart attack that women over the age of 50 may experience. These symptoms include:
- severe chest pain
A silent heart attack is like any other heart attack, except it occurs without the usual symptoms. In other words, you may not even realize youve experienced a heart attack.
The American Heart Association estimates that as many as 170,000 Americans experience heart attacks each year without even knowing it. Though less symptomatic than a full heart attack, these events cause heart damage and increase the risk of future attacks.
Silent heart attacks are more common among people with diabetes and in those whove had previous heart attacks.
Symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack include:
- mild discomfort in your chest, arms, or jaw that goes away after resting
- shortness of breath and tiring easily
- sleep disturbances and increased fatigue
- abdominal pain or heartburn
- skin clamminess
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