Women's Heart Attack Symptoms

7 Heart Attack Signs Women -- and Doctors -- Often Miss
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Conventional wisdom has it that heart attacks come out of the blue. We're also trained to expect a heart attack to happen a certain way: The victim clutches his chest, writhes in pain, and collapses. But for women, it often doesn't happen that way. Study after study shows heart attacks and heart disease are under-diagnosed in women, with the explanation being that they didn't have symptoms.

But research shows that's not always the case. Women who've had heart attacks realize, looking back, that they experienced significant symptoms -- they just didn't recognize them as such.

What did the majority of women report experiencing the week before their heart attack?

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, 95 percent of women (that's almost all!) who'd had heart attacks reported experiencing symptoms that were decidedly new or different from their previous experience a month or more before their attacks.

Even when a heart attack is occurring, women are often slow to realize what's happening and call a doctor. The reason? Women's heart attack symptoms are different than men's. This failure to recognize heart attack signs in women has led to a grim statistic: Women are more likely to die from sudden cardiac death than men are, and two thirds of women who have a heart attack don't recover completely.

So, if you're worried about being a victim of a heart attack, or missing the symptoms beforehand, what should you look for?

To prevent a heart attack from sneaking up on you, watch for these 7 little-known signs of heart attack:

Fatigue. More than 70 percent of women in the NIH study reported extreme fatigue in the month or months prior to their heart attacks. This was not just your run-of-the-mill tiredness -- the kind you can power through -- this was an overwhelming fatigue that sidelined them from their usual schedules for a few days at a time.

Sleeplessness or insomnia. Despite their fatigue, women who've had heart attacks remember experiencing unexplained inability to fall asleep or stay asleep during the month before their heart attacks.

Anxiety and stress. Stress has long been known to up the risk of heart attack. But what women report is the emotional experience; before their heart attacks they felt anxious, stressed, and keyed up, noticeably more than usual. Moments before or during a heart attack, many women report a feeling they describe as "impending doom;" they're aware that something's drastically wrong and they can't cope, but they're not sure what's going on.

Indigestion or nausea. Stomach pain, intestinal cramps, nausea, and digestive disruptions are another sign reported by women heart attack patients. Become familiar with your own digestive habits, and pay attention when anything seems out of whack. Note especially if your system seems upset and you haven't eaten anything out of the ordinary.

Shortness of breath. Of the women in the NIH study, more than 40 percent remembered experiencing this symptom. One of the comments the women made is that they noticed they couldn't catch their breath while walking up the stairs or doing other daily tasks.

Flu-like symptoms. Clammy, sweaty skin, along with feeling lightheaded and weak, can lead women to wonder if they have the flu when, in fact, they're having a heart attack.

Jaw, ear, neck, back, or shoulder pain. While pain and numbness in the chest, shoulder, and arm is a common sign of heart attack (at least, among men), women often don't experience the pain this way. Instead, many women say they felt pain and a sensation of tightness running along their jaw and down the neck, and sometimes up to the ear, as well. The pain may extend down to the shoulder and arm--particularly on the left side--or it may feel like a backache or pulled muscle in the neck and back.

How should you protect yourself, or the women you care about?

How to protect yourself or the women you care about

In addition to the symptoms they do have, women differ from men in another significant way -- they may not experience many of the symptoms we traditionally associate with heart attacks. This, experts say, is a major reason why women's heart attacks go unrecognized and untreated. Almost half of all women in the NIH study felt no chest pain, even during the heart attack itself. Numbness is another symptom women may not experience, experts say.

If your body is doing unusual things and you just don't feel "right," don't wait. Go see your doctor and ask for a thorough work-up. And if you have any risk factors for cardiac disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, or family history of heart disease, mention these to the doctor. Time is of the essence, so don't count on medical staff to know your background or read your chart -- tell them your risk factors right away, so your condition can be evaluated fully and completely.

You may know the well-publicized signs of heart attack. But are other forms of heart disease creeping up on you or a loved one? Discover 6 silent heart symptoms you should know.

Did you know strokes are the leading cause to debilitation and #5 cause of death in the U.S.? The sad part is, there are usually telltale signs that potential stroke victims can take action on before the stroke happens. Learn these 10 surprising clues to stroke risk.

80% of strokes are preventable. How? Here are Key factors that experts believe directly contribute to stroke risks, and what you can do to control them.

You may eat these foods all the time, and not know they're among a group of foods that can trigger a stroke. Learn about these 5 foods that can trigger a stroke before it's too late.


Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio


about 1 year ago, said...

This was very informative. Unfortunately, 4yrs ago now I actually had a mild heart attack and was in the hospital in the cardiovascular ICU. And that's when they found out that I've got a heart arrhythmias and Tachycardia in the Sinus Node of my heart. Now, I've got a heart monitor implanted in my body for the next 3yrs.


about 2 years ago, said...

Does dialysis eventually lead to heart failure, what can I do to thwart the process, I was told that I had left ventricular hypertrophy


over 3 years ago, said...

Symptoms explained are very helpful. Layout of the article is easy to read and follow.


over 3 years ago, said...

Wish I had seen this before Feb 4,2014...the evening at 47 yrs.old I had a heart attack.


over 4 years ago, said...

New Symptoms


over 4 years ago, said...

When I get lax about taking care of myself, I do have all those symptoms, some more often than the others, sometimes all at the same time, sometimes scarier than at other times, but my response, even when I'm scared it might be a "heart event" would never be to go to a cardiologist or call paramedics. My response is to evaluate what I'm doing (usually high stress and falling down on healthy lifestyle, though I am not a smoker and never have been) and always, always, immediately down the supplements I've been lax on in the first place. My mother's cardiologist was absolutely amazed at her improvement after I had treated her with supplements for six months--she no longer even needed medications. If only I would consistently do as much for myself! The major heart supplements are: Ubiquinol (don't get the cheap synthetics of this or any of the others)-immediately take 200 mg and 100 to 300 per day; it is also twice as effective as CoQ10 form. Then, Hawthorne (strengthens heart muscle); L-carnitine (helps breathlessness and with all those steps!); Vitamin A (oil not beta form) strengthens capillaries, E (only with toctrienols and not synthetic), B complex (liquid works faster especially for nerve pain), C with bioflavonoids and Zyflamend (herbals that reduce inflammation made by New Chapter). There are others, but these are essentials. Get enough sleep, lower stress, eat organic only (but not apples and pears as they are sprayed with antibiotics even when grown organically), exercise and your symptoms will go away and your body will heal itself. I know this from personal experience, though I forget and backslide sometimes. My mother did not die of the strokes or heart disease the doctors thought she would die from, she recovered from both, but died when she broke her hip (hip was healing) but when I left her for a week, the rehab place in San Antonio neglected her, did not see that she got the supplements I left for her while I got us a place to live in CA, and she got a severe infection that killed her within hours. Do your research, doctors are not God. You can thin your blood, clean up your arteries, and heal your heart (or other disease) with supplements and lifestyle changes. It would be rare indeed if you really did need a stent, or a money-making bypass, and usually not a pacemaker, and certainly you do not need to be on drugs for life--another money-maker for the pharmaceutical industry.


over 4 years ago, said...

I had severe dizziness on day 1 and then on day 2 I also an angina attack. ER sent me on to San FRancisco were I had and angioplasty and two stents were inserted in the left artery of my heart. My artery was 85% blocked. I had severe fatigue for months, none of the test showed any blockage because I had something called a branched artery.


over 4 years ago, said...

I had no pain with my MI. I just didn't feel right. I KNEW something was wrong.


over 4 years ago, said...

different types of symptoms.


over 4 years ago, said...

Thanks for this knowledge. I will start listening to my body. I will even send this msg to my friends and I will tell my mother too to keep us updated about all these symptoms. Once again thanks very much.


over 4 years ago, said...

very informative and easy to read, thank you very much


about 5 years ago, said...

So glad you are writing about it, but those are symptoms most of us seniors have every day. What is different about heart-attack symptoms? Thanks


over 5 years ago, said...

What does it mean when you have ongoing indigestion & reflux so bad that even water causes it daily. there is pain straight through front to back that my daughter has to loosen her bra? tired most of the time. a lot of stomach fat and a smoker. her gramma had heart problems


over 5 years ago, said...

To know of some of the uncommon symptoms of a heart attack. It is enlightening. The tendency, however, is to think, "oh, it's nothing". Of course, one day it could be too late. That is the scary part!


over 5 years ago, said...

your advice to see your doctor sounds like a good idea,except it doesn't work that way .If you call and ask to see your doctor you are told that the doctor can't see you until whatever date they have open.NO MATTER WHAT!


over 5 years ago, said...

I think these articles are all very well, but if you have the same poor quality doctor I have you will probably just be prescribed HRT or anti-depressants despite having all the indicators for potential heart trouble AND several of these symptoms. Basically doctors don't care about women over 30! If you present with this article you will most likely be accused of being hysterical or obsessive by some trainee who hasn't even read your notes!


over 5 years ago, said...

I am not sure that anything would have. I experienced this exact scenario approximately 6 months ago. It's amazing how you can have all that going on but not believe or completely recognize what it is that's happening. I waited three days through pretty tough symptoms but wasn't convinced it was a heart attack. The third day I finally called the paramedics and went to ER where I promptly received blood test, ekg, followed by a cardiac cath and stent in my right aorta to open a 70% blockage. Thank God I went that third day. I find myself experiencing similar symptoms now and have not as yet acted on it. Since they are the ones that led up to the attack I won't be calling the paramedics, but I am however going to call my cardiologist first thing Monday morning. Thank you very much.


over 5 years ago, said...

Is it possible to have all these symptons and not have a heart attack at that time. I have some risk factors, so I am being careful. The jaw and shoulder pain just stopped. Am I still at risk when nothing continued happening?


over 5 years ago, said...

I have all of these signs, I'm a 54 f, overweight and a smoker, but my doctor tells me my heart is fine...Is that possible?


over 5 years ago, said...

I am a 62 year old woman. The problem with this list is that I have all these symptoms often and for many years, Indigestion , fatigue, muscle pain, anxiety. You name it. Since peri-menopause and menopause during the last ten years, I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and have experienced many other menopausal symptoms which made me feel at the time that I must be having a heart attack. I was not as extensive tests confirmed. How the hell will I know if I am having a heart attack if the list of symptoms is as broad and as vague as they are described here?


over 5 years ago, said...

it is a very good article to know. Thanks


over 5 years ago, said...

just knowing th different signs for women..


over 5 years ago, said...

Unless you've taken CPR training (Red Cross for instance), you might not know some of these things. Due to CPR I took 30+ years ago, I recognized my husband's heart attack for what it was....the indigestion, tightness in the chest and aching by the shoulder blade were his symptoms -- of silent ischemia. Not all heart attacks look like what we see in the movies! Also, most women don't complain loudly enough to our doctors! Don't be a "whiner" or they'll think we're always "crying wolf" but, if we feel there's a problem, MAKE SOME NOISE in your doctor's office! They aren't mind-readers (contrary to what they might think) and, if they don't listen to you, it's time to find another doctor, ladies! I also had to be my Mom's advocate for both her stroke and heart attack. Important to learn your family history, too!


over 5 years ago, said...

Yes cause I have high blood pressure, Have been on two meds coreg 6.25 mg b.i.d/accupril 40mg once aday.. Yes heart disease runs in my immediate family,I didn't know about th systoms for women..thank you''


over 5 years ago, said...

Yes this was very helpful. My breast cancer has returned after eight years of being cancer free after having my left breast removed. This time it came back on the same side but in the chest wall. After 33 treatments of radiation, I have been waiting to see if the treatments helped but am very worried because the treatment had to be so very close to my heart. I have wondered what the symptoms would be if I was in danger of a heart attack and you answered my unspoken question. Thank you. When I asked the doctor he said to wait and see how the radiation did before we get into that. So thank you again, it was a big help to me. Dove