Not all heart attacks occur with a sudden, crushing pain in the center of the chest. Heart attack symptoms can vary, and women are more likely to experience a heart attack with no chest pain at all.
That's why it's so important to know your own risk factors for a heart attack, said Paul A. Jones, MD, FACP, FACC, the medical director for Franciscan Health Cardiovascular Services in Northern Indiana and South Suburban Chicago.
"The better we educate the public on knowing the risk factors, the higher the likelihood they would be more in tune to some of the potential signs and symptoms of a heart attack," he said.
Men and women do not experience heart attacks the same way.
Women are more likely to experience unusual fatigue and nausea. “Common anginal symptoms in women are discomfort between the shoulder blades, accompanied by sleep disturbance,” said Michael Hogan, MD, FACC, cardiologist at Franciscan Health Lafayette.
Men’s unique symptoms can include pain in the left arm, breaking out in a cold sweat and stomach discomfort or indigestion.
Common Heart Attack Symptoms for Men and Women
- Chest pressure, pain or discomfort
- Feeling dizzy
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Back, neck, arm or jaw pain
Heart Attack Symptoms More Common for Men
- Shooting pain in the left arm
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Severe chest pain
- Stomach discomfort or indigestion
Heart Attack Symptoms More Common for Women
- Unusual fatigue
- Anxiety and sleep disturbance
- Dull pain or discomfort in neck, back, jaw or stomach
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath, even when sitting
Men, Women Perceive Heart Attack Symptoms Differently
Not only do women and men have different symptoms of heart disease, but the genders also differ in how they perceive their symptoms. It’s important for women not to minimize or overlook their own symptoms.
“Women have more problems than men because they tend to take care of the whole family and then forget about themselves. And when they have symptoms, they say, ‘I have no time for this.’ And that can also be very dangerous,” said Jairo Cruz, MD, cardiologist at Franciscan Health Olympia Fields.
Women should have the "same level of aggressiveness" as men and get an evaluation if they suspect a heart issue, said Dr. Jones. That means heading to the nearest emergency room so a diagnosis can be made. "The other piece is the treatment. We need to be just as aggressive in managing heart disease in women as we are in men," Dr. Jones said.
Dr. Jones said a patient who knows the risks will be less likely to incorrectly blame their discomfort on heartburn, something he's seen happen too many times. "They'll think twice and say, 'Hey, this could be my warning sign of a heart attack' and not blow it off," he said.
Learn the silent symptoms of a heart attack.
Whether you’re a man or women, if you suspect you might be having a heart attack, call 911. Every second counts.
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