Know the Signs: Heart Attacks in Women
In the movies, it’s usually obvious when someone is having a heart attack — the star clasps their chest, stops breathing, and falls over as loved ones rush over to help. But in reality, a heart attack isn’t always so obvious, especially when a woman has a heart attack.
A heart attack is when the blood flow that brings oxygen to your heart is severely reduced or cut off completely. This typically occurs when the arteries that supply your heart with blood have become hardened and narrowed due to a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances.
While men and women may both feel chest pain or discomfort during a heart attack, women often experience other symptoms as well. Most heart attacks start slowly. You may only feel mild pain or discomfort, and you may not even know it’s a problem with your heart — some women mistakenly believe they have the flu or bad heartburn.
According to the American Heart Association, the heart attack signs in women include:
- 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, the most common heart attack symptom in women 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.
No matter what, if you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above symptoms, call 9-1-1. Every second counts when you’re having a heart attack, and it’s better to be evaluated and receive a clean bill of health than to be too embarrassed about being wrong. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can evaluate you and begin treatment when they arrive.