Although the most common heart attack symptoms for women and men are chest pain and chest pressure, women are more likely than men to have other symptoms. The American Heart Association identifies these common signs of heart attack in women:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that 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.
Understanding heart disease symptoms
Oftentimes, women don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease and delay getting treatment, says Cheryl Bord, a University of Michigan nurse practitioner specializing in women’s heart health. But understanding the symptoms of a heart attack and seeking immediate treatment is especially important. Here’s why:
- Women have worse outcomes after a heart attack than men.
- More women die within the first year of a heart attack.
- Women appear to develop heart failure more often than men and are more likely to die after bypass surgery.
- Women have higher rates of depression and physical disability after a heart attack.
- Women also have higher rates of additional medical problems, such as diabetes and microvascular disease, which contribute to worse outcomes.
According to Bord, if you develop significant chest pain, shortness of breath or sudden rapid heart rate that does not resolve in 5-10 minutes, call 911 and be transported to the nearest emergency room. Do not drive yourself.
Remember, even if you feel your symptoms are mild in nature, it is still important to talk to your healthcare provider to eliminate the possibility of a heart-related issue.
Protecting yourself from heart disease
To protect yourself from heart disease, the AHA recommends:
- Scheduling an appointment with your healthcare provider to learn your personal risk for heart disease.
- Quitting smoking. Just one year after you quit, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.
- Starting an exercise program. Walking 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Modifying your diet, if needed.
Just a “little” heart attack? Watch the AHA video
Watch the American Heart Association video “Just a Little Heart Attack” for an amusing but sobering look at how a supermom reacts to her heart attack symptoms.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.