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Heart Attack Symptoms Are They Different For Men And Women

Mayo Clinic Minute: Women’s heart attack symptoms vary

Three minute read

Every year, more than one million people in the U.S. suffer from a heart attack. This means every 40 seconds someone in the US experiences congestive heart failure. Although heart disease death rates have fallen steadily for men, the rates for women have decreased only slightly.

Why is there such a discrepancy between men and women? A lot of it has to do with the variances in symptoms of heart attacks for each gender.

Difference in heart attack symptoms for men and women

Chest tightening, sweating and pain in the shoulder and arm are the most well-known symptoms of a heart attack. For years, many believed these were the only symptoms to look out for, but as we learn more about cardiovascular disease, we find that there are significant differences in how men and women experience a heart attack.

Warning signs in men

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men. In fact, 1 in every 4 males die from a heart attack. Men also experience heart attacks earlier in life compared to women. Men exhibit the following symptoms during a heart attack:

  • Chest pain/tightening that feels like an elephant sitting on your chest. Also, a squeezing sensation that comes and goes or remains constant
  • Upper body pain in the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Rapid heartbeats

Warning signs in women

Women are less likely to seek treatment

What to do if you think youre having a heart attack

Schedule regular check-ups

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Angina In Women Can Be Different Than Men

Angina is a warning sign of heart disease, and recognizing it and getting treated early may prevent a heart attack.

Coronary artery disease occurs when fatty build-up in your coronary arteries, called plaque, prevents adequate blood flow thats needed to provide oxygen to your heart muscle.

As coronary artery disease progresses, you may have tightness, pressure or discomfort in your chest during physical activity or when stressed. It may go away shortly after you stop the activity or get rid of the stress. If the blockages worsen, it may take longer for the pain to go away, or you might experience pain at rest.

Angina symptoms in women can also include nausea, vomiting, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back and feeling out of breath. Once the extra demand for blood and oxygen stops, so do the symptoms. These symptoms are not always recognized as a symptom of a heart condition in women. As a result, treatment for women can be delayed.

What Women Need To Know About Heart Attack Symptoms

Some heart attack symptoms are obvious. Everyone knows what it means when someone clutches his/her chest and drops to the floor.

But the symptoms of heart attacks are wide-ranging, and some are less apparent than others. This is particularly true for women. Heart attack symptoms vary between the sexes, and women are more likely to experience symptom clusters multiple heart attack symptoms that happen at the same time.

And womens heart attacks tend to be more serious than mens. According to the Womens Heart Foundation, 42 percent of women who have heart attacks die within one year, compared to 24 percent of men.

Its vital that women be able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack so they can seek care immediately and reduce lasting heart damage. Take a moment to review this list of womens heart attack symptoms, as well as other risk factors of which women need to be cognizant.

Also Check: How To Prevent Heart Attacks

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 |

Testing: What To Expect

What Women Need to Know About Strokes and Heart Attacks

The hours following a heart attack can be scary and confusing. Your medical team may be incredibly busy and focused, and hard-pressed to explain everything thats happening.

You and your caregivers are sure to have questions. You may wonder about the tests and procedures that are being performed.

In the section below, youll find descriptions of the kinds of diagnostic procedures you may encounter as your doctors strive to identify the underlying causes of your heart attack.

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How Is A Heart Attack Diagnosed

To diagnose a heart attack, a doctor will ask you about your symptoms, your health, and your family health history. The doctor will also order tests.

Doctors often use these types of tests to diagnose a heart attack and choose the best treatment.

  • Blood tests. During a heart attack, heart muscle cells die and burst open. This process releases proteins into your blood. Heart attack blood tests measure the amount of these protein markers of heart damage. Common heart attack blood tests include:
  • Cardiac troponin . This is the most common blood test. This marker is released from the injured heart muscle. It is not found in the blood of healthy people. Troponin levels go up three to six hours after your heart attack starts, so the test may not find a heart attack right away.
  • Creatine Kinase-MB . The CKMB test measures the amount of damage to the heart because of blocked blood flow. The test can tell whether treatments to restore blood flow to the heart are working. CKMB levels rise about four to six hours after a heart attack starts and peak 24 hours later.
  • Myoglobin. This test helps diagnose a heart attack in the very early stages. After a heart attack, myoglobin levels rise within one to four hours but peak after 12 hours.
  • Coronary angiography , or angiogram. This test takes pictures of a dye flowing through your blood vessels. By watching how smoothly the dye flows, doctors can locate narrowed or blocked coronary arteries that might need to be opened, or find other problems.
  • Symptoms Vary Between Men And Women

    As with men, womens 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 shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

    Also Check: How To Treat Congestive Heart Failure

    Do Women Experience Different Heart Attack Symptoms

    It is important to remember that everyone experiences different heart attack symptoms. The symptoms of a subsequent heart attack may be different from the first.

    Women are more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms without chest discomfort. If they do have tightness, pressure or discomfort in the chest, this discomfort may not always be severe or even the most noticeable symptom.

    Sometimes a person can have no heart attack symptoms at all. In these cases the heart attack isn’t diagnosed until it is picked up by a clinician at a later date. This is sometimes called a silent heart attack.

    When Should You Call 911 For A Heart Problem

    Mayo Clinic Minute – Women’s heart attack symptoms vary

    At certain times, calling 911 right away is a must. If youre having chest pressure or chest tightness that started that day, you should not wait to go to your general practitioner, says Dr. Cho. Go to the emergency room.

    You should also call 911 and get help right away if you have chest pain or discomfort along with any of the following symptoms, especially if they last longer than five minutes:

    • Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
    • Sweating or cold sweat.
    • Light-headedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety.
    • Rapid or irregular heartbeats.

    Recommended Reading: Mayo Clinic Congestive Heart Failure

    What Women Need To Know About Subtle Heart Attack Symptoms

    Heart disease is the cause of about one in every three deaths in the United States. Its the leading cause of death for men and women, yet its a common misconception that men are at greater risk for heart problems than women.

    Many people assume that only older individuals, particular older men, are at risk for heart attack. But if your heart health is compromised, a heart attack can happen at any age and to either sex.

    The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain for both women and men. But women are more likely to suffer a heart attack with more subtle symptoms, which makes recognizing a heart attack more difficult unless you know what to look for.

    At NJ Cardiovascular Institute, our team is here to help you understand the most common signs of heart attacks in women. We regularly diagnose and treat heart disease to help women of all ages live longer, healthier lives.

    Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack In Women

    Heart attacks are often stereotyped as something that happens to older men, not women. But heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.1 Yet only about half of women know this.1

    Plus, the way women experience a heart attack can feel different from men. While both men and women may have chest pain during a heart attack, women tend to have symptoms in addition to chest pain.

    Researchers found that when women have a heart attack, theyre more likely to experience 3 or more related symptoms compared to men.2 These symptoms may include jaw pain, neck pain, back pain, and shortness of breath, and can make it hard for women to tell if theyre having a heart attack.

    Women are also more likely than men to think their heart attack symptoms are caused by anxiety and stress.2 Oftentimes, this misunderstanding combined with a wider range of symptoms can cause women to wait longer to get treated.

    Several studies have shown that women wait longer to get treatment for a heart attack than men, says Mingsum Lee, MD, a clinical cardiologist at Kaiser Permanentes Los Angeles Medical Center.

    So, its important to learn these symptoms of a heart attack and know when to seek care.

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    What Is A Heart Attack

    Heart attack signs and symptoms in men and women: Chest pain or discomfort Shortness of breath Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, arm, or shoulder Feeling nauseous, light-headed, or unusually tired.

    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.

    Coronary artery disease is the main cause of heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm, or sudden contraction, of a coronary artery that can stop blood flow to the heart muscle.

    Complications Of A Heart Attack

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    Complications of a heart attack can be serious and possibly life threatening.

    These include:

    • arrhythmias these are abnormal heartbeats. 1 type is where the heart begins beating faster and faster, then stops beating
    • cardiogenic shock where the heart’s muscles are severely damaged and can no longer contract properly to supply enough blood to maintain many body functions
    • heart rupture where the heart’s muscles, walls or valves split apart

    These complications can happen quickly after a heart attack and are a leading cause of death.

    Many people die suddenly from a complication of a heart attack before reaching hospital or within the 1st month after a heart attack.

    The outlook often depends on:

    • age serious complications are more likely as you get older
    • the severity of the heart attack how much of the heart’s muscle has been damaged during the attack
    • how long it took before a person received treatment treatment for a heart attack should begin as soon as possible

    Also Check: How Heart Attacks Are Treated

    Heart Attacks Striking Younger Women

    Younger women are having more heart attacks, says a recent study.Researchers were surprised to find that while the heart attack rate hasdecreased among older adults, it’s risen among those ages 35-54, especiallywomen. TheAtherosclerosis Risk in Communities studyreviewed more than 28,000 hospitalizations for heart attacks in fourcities.

    “This observational study found a trend in young women,” saysVirginia Colliver, M.D., cardiologist withJohns Hopkins Community Physicians-Heart Carein Bethesda, Maryland. “But the research doesn’t provide insight into whythe uptick in heart attacks is happening to younger people. I suspect ithas to do with more people having risk factors for heart disease at anearlier age.”

    How Is A Heart Attack Treated

    Heart attack is most often treated with medicine or nonsurgical procedures that break up blood clots and restore normal blood flow to the heart. Some treatments will start right away, when the ambulance comes. You will get other treatments later, in the hospital.

    Getting treatment right away for a heart attack can help prevent or limit damage to your heart muscle. This is one reason why it is important to call 911 if you think you are having a heart attack, rather than driving yourself to the hospital.

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    What Not To Do

    If you feel heart attack symptoms:

    • Donât delay getting help. “Women generally wait longer than men before going to the emergency room,” says Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, FACC, director of Women’s Cardiovascular Services for the UCSF Division of Cardiology in San Francisco. Even if you think your symptoms arenât that bad or will pass, the stakes are too high.
    • Don’t drive yourself to the hospital. You need an ambulance. If you drive, you could have a wreck on the way and possibly hurt yourself or someone else.
    • Donât have a friend or relative drive you, either. You may not get there fast enough.
    • Donât dismiss what you feel. “Don’t worry about feeling silly if you’re wrong,” Goldberg says. You have to get it checked out right away.

    “People don’t want to spend hours in an emergency room if it isn’t a heart attack,” Bairey Merz says. “But women are actually good at deciding what is typical for themselves and when to seek health care.”

    Show Sources

    Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director, Joan H. Tisch Center for Womenâs Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York.

    C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, FACC, FAHA, director, Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center director, Preventive Cardiac Center professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.

    Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, FACC, director, Women’s Cardiovascular Services, UCSF division of cardiology professor of medicine, UCSF School of Medicine, San Francisco editor, JAMA Internal Medicine.

    Did We Answer Your Question About Heart Attack

    Heart attack signs and symptoms in women

    For more information about heart attack, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

    • Heart Attack â Information from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
    • Heart Attack â Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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    Causes And Risk Factors

    Risk factors such as age, lifestyle habits, and other health conditions affect men and women differently.

    • Women may get heart attacks at older ages than men do.
    • Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high blood sugar, obesity, and stress raise the risk of a heart attack more in women than in men.
    • Women are more likely than men to have heart attacks that are not caused by coronary artery disease. This can make it more difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose heart attacks in women.
    • Women have more health problems after having a heart attack than men do.

    Learn about how women can prevent heart disease.

    Heart Attack Symptoms In Men Vs Women

    All heart attacks are not created equally, and that is especially true when it comes to the difference in symptoms between men and women. Knowing how to identify heart attack symptoms is critical to getting treatment quicker and saving valuable heart muscle. Dr. Tara Jarreau of Louisiana Cardiology Associates offers the following advice on recognizing heart attack symptoms.

    Studies have shown there is a distinct disparity between men and women when it comes to the heart. For example, women have smaller hearts and smaller arteries than men do. This could be why the symptoms of a heart attack are different for women than men.

    Common symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women include:

    • Chest pain. For men, it can feel like uncomfortable pressure or squeezing of the chest. For women, the pain could be radiating or non-radiating. Research shows that almost half of women said they did not experience chest pain at anytime during a heart attack.
    • Jaw or shoulder pain
    • Weakness and shortness of breath

    Unique symptoms for women include:

    • Fatigue, often the first and most unrecognized symptom
    • Back pain between the shoulder blades
    • Unique symptoms for men include:
    • Pain in one or both arms
    • Back or stomach pain
    • Abdominal discomfort that may feel like indigestion

    Tips for Prevention

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    Signs And Symptoms Of Heart Attack

    If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It 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.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • As with men, womens 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 shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
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