According to CDC estimates, nearly one million Americans have a heart attack each year. And surviving a heart attack often depends on how quickly you receive medical care. The first step then is to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, which can vary significantly between women and men.
Our team of experts at Premier Cardiology Consultants in New York specializes in diagnosing, preventing, and treating cardiovascular diseases that can result in heart attacks.
While anyone can have a heart attack, irrespective of gender, we’re happy to explain how symptoms can vary, sometimes leading to misdiagnosis or delayed treatment in women.
Common heart attack symptoms in men
Traditionally, heart attack symptoms are described through the lens of male experiences. The symptoms include:
Chest pain or discomfort
This is often described as pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the center of the chest. It can last for a few minutes or come and go.
Upper body discomfort
Heart attack symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the upper to mid back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.
Shortness of breath
This can occur with or without chest discomfort and may worsen with even light activity.
Heart attack symptoms may also include cold sweats, nausea, lightheadedness, or dizziness. You may experience one, a few, or none of these symptoms. A so-called “silent” heart attack occurs without symptoms but leaves identifiable damage to the heart.
However, men are more likely to experience chest pain as their predominant symptom.
Understanding heart attack symptoms in women
While chest pain is still a common symptom for women, they are often more likely to experience other symptoms that can be less noticeable or easily dismissed as unrelated to the heart.
For instance, women are more likely to have 'atypical' symptoms such as:
Some women report feeling extremely tired, even if they've been sitting still for a while or haven't been overly active.
Difficulty sleeping could be related to the heart and might not be associated with discomfort in the chest.
Indigestion or gas-like pain
Digestive issues, including nausea, can be a sign of heart disease, particularly in women.
Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
These heart attack symptoms can occur more often in women than men.
Shortness of breath
Both men and women report shortness of breath with a heart attack, but it often occurs without chest pain in women.
Upper body pain or discomfort
Unlike men, women might experience moderate to severe discomfort in one or both arms, the upper back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
Unexplained anxiety, weakness, or fatigue
Palpitations, cold sweats, and unexplained anxiety are potential signs of a heart attack in women.
The importance of recognizing the difference
The primary reason for understanding these differences lies in the consequences of misdiagnosis or delayed treatment for heart disease or a heart attack. Early treatment is vital for both women and men experiencing a heart attack. Such treatment can save your life and help reduce disabling damage to your heart muscle.
Unfortunately, women are sometimes less likely to believe they're having a heart attack and may delay emergency care. Also, physicians can sometimes overlook heart attack symptoms in women, attributing them to conditions like acid reflux, stress, or musculoskeletal issues.
Regardless of gender, if you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. If you’re concerned about your risk factors, we can help. Schedule an evaluation at Premier Cardiology today. Call the office or request an appointment online.