While chest pain and shortness of breath have long been the telltale signs of a heart attack, these symptoms have been based on years of clinical research looking at what men experience.
But women have a higher risk of dying from a heart attack than men do. In many cases, that’s because they don’t realize they are having a heart attack and take too long to get help.
More recent studies have indicated that fewer women experience chest pain, or at least to the degree of pain or discomfort than men do.
More simply put: Women are less likely to have the typical heart attack seen in the movies.
Women could certainly experience chest pain, but they should also be on the lookout for less obvious symptoms, such as nausea, indigestion, and palpitations — in addition to shortness of breath and back pain.
Nearly half of women in one study had no chest pain at all during their heart attack. Fatigue and shortness of breath were the most common symptoms.
“Both women and men may have typical symptoms of heart attack, including chest pain or pressure often radiating to the shoulders, arms, neck or jaw and shortness of breath. These symptoms are usually made worse with exertion or stress,” said Marcus St. John, M.D., interventional cardiologist, Baptist Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “There are, however, several atypical symptoms of a heart attack and these tend to be more common in women.”
Those symptoms include fatigue or weakness, back pain, indigestion or nausea, St. John said.
“Women are less likely to seek treatment immediately with such symptoms because they are less typical for a heart attack,” he said. “And physicians may be less likely to diagnose and treat women promptly.”
According to the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, some women mistakenly think that only crushing chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack. This misconception causes them to delay seeking medical help.
Sometimes heart attack symptoms are attributed to other health problems, such as indigestion. This is why it is so important to ask your doctor to administer an EKG test or an enzyme blood test.
The most important thing to do if you think you are having heart attack symptoms is to call 911 and tell them you are experiencing heart attack symptoms.
Most common heart attack symptoms for men and women:
• Discomfort, tightness, uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, or comes and goes
• Crushing chest pain
• Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms
• Dizziness or nausea
• Clammy sweats, heart flutters, or paleness
• Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness – especially with exertion
• Stomach or abdominal pain
• Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
Heart attack symptoms found to be more common in women:
• Pain in the arm (especially left arm), back, neck, abdomen or shoulder blades
• Jaw pain
• Nausea and vomiting
• Overwhelming and unusual fatigue, sometimes with shortness of breath
• Light headedness or sweating